Updated: Jun 30
by Lu-Ann Ong, Member, The Brilliant Foundation
Running Away From Peace
Peace is flowing like a river, flowing out from you and me, flowing out into the desert, setting all the captives free…
SINGAPORE - The lyrics flowed as I knelt at the Church of St. Bernadette, in attendance at the funeral mass of a best friend. Through the First Reading; Responsorial Psalm; Second Reading; Gospel Reading; Homily, I felt nothing except for the incessant pain flowing out of me.
My friend had chosen the hymn Peace is Flowing Like A River as her own send off, perhaps as a consolation to those of us she had to leave behind. On that day and for years after, I did not grasp her final gift to me.
Not only did I reject it, I ran away from it.
From the suddenness of her diagnose to her death, nothing prepared me, or us for it. We were discussing career switching plans, plans to have children, the Olympics in Beijing for the first time, the US elections. Little did we know that in less than 48 hours, all we had left to contemplate was which treatment, blood counts, survival chances and what next.
I ran away from God, church and the peace it promises after she died. For I thought that sometimes to gain something, the best way was to run away from it.
Flight was flowing like a river in me,
Flowing out though work and routines
Spreading to every organ of my being
Setting my heart free by caging it tight
A False Peace
Depression manifests differently in everyone and at different times. To overcome the loss of a best friend, Time turned out to be not proof positive. Since I was not able to count on Time, I had to find a way out.
I took to holidays. Everyone had the same idea, work and take some holidays. The way to more peace was more luxurious holidays as a mental break during designated times of the calendar year. Holiday planners marketed images of peace – mountains, landscapes, glaciers, nature – and people signed up earnestly, in search of peace.
Leisure travel became an escape, a search and pleasure rolled into one. I took pains to plan, overcame distance and time to stand in front of rivers and mountains with a firm believe that these moments were flowing notions of peace nourishing my soul. Furious and unrelenting waves, viewed from an “in search of peace” lens, turned these into wonders of nature.
With each wave, my well-being improved. People are more alike that different. Regardless of culture, race and origin, in search of peace and tranquillity was the common theme. Each in their own world, letting the peace work through them on the beach, in the midst of mountains and rivers. Awe and peace came hand in hand.
But as easily was this peace could be bought, it easily dissipated.
A waiter delivers a wrong cocktail and the peace found on the beach instantly turns into irritation. The same peaceful wave watching, the same family peacefully hugging each other as they stared in awe of the mountains, were the same characters showing their angst when the lift button failed to light up at touch, or a wrong dish came, or the buggy was late in showing up.
Still, it was an easy notion of peace and one worth the pursuit.
Robbed Of Peace (again)
11 years after, I found myself in a déjà vu situation. This time, with my husband; my other remaining best friend and soul mate. A cancer tumour, an emergency operation, Intensive Care Unit and the same hospital routines.
The first time it happened, I turned away from God in search of justice. It took me years to reconcile with God, that for all the divine mercies and rosaries we collectively and faithfully prayed with every minute we had, it fell on His deaf ears.
This time, I was going to turn the other cheek to God.
In my brokenness and helplessness, I spoke to my husband about God. I confided that I had not the courage, or strength or fortitude to do it alone, or even with us together. We need God on our ship. I cannot remembered if I prayed or I just wept daily but clearly, someone heard us.
My husband was baptised.
His baptism did not immediately return us the peace we craved, but it did to a large extent explained “the mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace”. (Romans 8:6)
From which it gave us an avenue to search for peace in scriptures. Though the dark and frightening months in and out of the hospital, the tests and scans, I found myself repeating like a broken recorder - Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. ( John 14:1)
Making Peace with Peace
In the midst of our struggles, the entire world was suddenly thrown into chaos. Peace was overturned, livelihoods lost, despair and an air of hopelessness prevailed.
My pandemic merged with the global pandemic. I was no longer alone.
Peace could no longer be found in jet setting escapes, hotel stays away from home, eating out at your favourite restaurant, an evening at a concert or exotic holidays. Not could it be found with a mask over your face, at the vaccination centres or news of travel bubbles.
In a pandemic, the situation is in flux. What is certain today can turn into uncertainty tomorrow.
Through the quiet and stillness of the lock down months, my pressure to search for peace was exonerated.
For there was nowhere to go, nowhere to search except inwards.
As I read the scriptures, I am reminded that the root of peace is none other than God at work. That when I think of peace, I should not first look at travel brochures, think of my naked body dipping into onsen against mountain views, or the liberating feeling of skiing down a slope.
I should think of God making a way for me to make peace with peace and be reconciled to him.
Today as I write this, I am not crouching my heart in pain and crying uncontrollably.
To my best friend with God, this is for you.
To everyone searching for peace, listen to the hymn to start your own journey… Peace is flowing like a river, flowing out from you and me, flowing out into the desert, setting all the captives free…