Battling for Inner Peace Against the Sunshine Thieves


“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been fortunate to do a lot of traveling lately, and in my travels I’ve encountered many breathtakingly beautiful locations–some of them intentional destinations but some of them also stumbled-upon delights. In several of those locations I have experienced what I would consider a “perfect moment,” a moment of tremendous joy and calming inner peace inspired by the serenity of the landscape before me.

And I have snapped thousands of pictures during my travels, hoping to capture that serenity and take it home with me as fuel to fight whatever challenges might lie ahead.   But in one of my most recent adventures–taking sunset shots over the Grand Canyon–I had an epiphany.  I had already taken hundreds of shots of the sun sinking into the Canyon, and I knew some of them were really good.  I was happy.  I was sitting on a ledge at Yaki Point, surrounded by dozens of other sight-seers, but their voices and silhouettes faded into the background.  For just a moment, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply of the cool mountain air, letting the peacefulness of my surroundings wash over me.

And suddenly I knew.  With perfect clarity I realized that the peace I had been searching so hard to find had been inside me all along.  The ocean waves, the blooming flowers, the majestic mountains, the blazing sunsets and the bubbling springs . . . none of them were responsible for creating my peace.  Rather, they were simply external stimuli that had unleashed what was already there.  The beauty I carry in my heart every day is the only key I need for unlocking the peace in my soul–I just need to remember to turn the key more often.

Okay, that’s probably enough new-age, hippie-chick nonsense for some of you, so I’ll just remind you of what Francois de La Rochefoucauld (French writer/smart dude) said about 400 years ago: “When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.”

In last week’s post, The Beauty that Still Remains, I wrote about the recent, discouraging increase in negativity and how that negativity steals our sunshine.  I thought a lot about inner peace while writing that post and about how we sometimes have to draw heavily on our reserves to keep others from coloring our beautiful world in shades of black.  The very next morning after that post, I encountered a stranger whose negativity (camouflaged as concern) sent angry storm clouds thundering across my horizon . . .

I was riding my bicycle around the local high school track.  I like riding mid-morning after all the serious exercisers have headed off to work but before the temperatures have sky-rocketed into the extreme.  Usually I have the track to myself the entire time–just me and the sunshine–and I did on this day, too, for the first ten miles of my ride.  Then a young woman showed up with six small children in tow.  Not good, I thought.  Often, when there are that many little ones, they are expected to supervise each other while their mamas power walk in oblivion on the other side of the track–which means they dodge in front of my bike tires, throw rocks at my back or chase after me–typical little kid behaviors when parents aren’t looking.

But I was wrong.  Mama left the five oldest caged on the tennis courts–where they alternated between playing, screaming and crying–while she walked laps around the track with a baby on her hip.  It was 85° at the time, and she was dressed in a long-sleeved t-shirt and an ankle-length dress above her tennis shoes, while I was dressed in a sleeveless cycling jersey and cycling shorts.  I was already hot, so my first thought was to admire her for her determination to exercise despite the heat and the added discomfort of her attire.

We continued in silence for several laps, she with her baby and I with my bike.  And then, as she appeared ready to exit the track, she stopped in her lane, turned in my direction and waited.  As I got closer, she put up her free hand as if to signal “Stop.”  Now, when I ride my bike I am “clipped in” to my pedals, so I can’t stop immediately; one at a time, I have to turn my feet sideways and “lift” my shoes out of the pedals.  I did this and then turned around and circled back to her.  People often stop me to ask questions about bicycling, so I assumed that was what she wanted also.  I was wrong again.

When I pulled up to her and smiled, she spoke immediately.

“God does not approve of the way you are dressed, Sister.”

I stopped smiling.

“Excuse me?” Surely, I had misunderstood her.  But no.

“God does not approve of the way you are dressed,” she repeated.

Okay, let me clarify that while my jersey was sleeveless, it was NOT form-fitting, see-through or low-cut.  It was just a simple cycling jersey.  And even though I WAS wearing Spandex cycling shorts, they were almost knee-length, and I was wearing another pair of shorts over them because I don’t like putting my Spandex-clad derriere on display.  (It’s not modesty so much as vanity–few people look good in Spandex, and I’m not one of those lucky few.)

Anyway, back to the story . . . I should have shrugged my shoulders and pedaled away.  I should have told myself not to let her negativity bother me, but I was hot and sweaty (and dumbfounded), and my temper may have flared slightly as the adrenaline pumping through my veins blasted common sense right out of the realm of possibility.

“I’m sorry, but did God TELL you he does not approve of the way I’m dressed?”

“It’s in His Word, Sister.  ‘In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety . . .’ ”

“There is nothing wrong with the way I’m dressed!”

“That thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear . . . ”

“Oh, my gosh!” I panted.  “I’m pretty sure MY God is just glad that I’m honoring the temple of my body by doing what I can to keep it healthy and strong . . . and I don’t think he gives a RIP about how I’m dressed!”  There might have been a touch of sarcasm mingled with anger seeping through my words . . . just a touch.

By then I think my nemesis had realized I would not be an easy convert, and she shook her head in dismay.  “You are sorely mistaken, Sister.  I will pray for your heathen soul.”

“And I will pray for yours!”  And with that, I belatedly pedaled away, so angry that my heart was thumping in my ears, fire was shooting from my flaring nostrils and sparks were flying from my tires.  How dare she!  From my rear-view mirror I watched her watching me . . . and then she walked to the tennis courts to retrieve her brood.

Good, I thought, she’s leaving.  But no.  Wrong again.  I saw her bend over to talk to her children, and as I circled back around in their direction, I saw those little ones stealing glances in my direction before she re-directed their attention.  “Don’t look at the evil lady on the bicycle, children!” I was sure she was warning them.  Okay, whatever.

I kept pedaling.  But as I circled around again, I saw that the woman had led the children to the basketball court–which was closer to the track (so that I would be sure to see them?)–and that she and they were sitting in a circle on the hot asphalt, holding hands and bowing their heads.  Praying for the evil lady.

“There is nothing wrong with the way I’m dressed!”  Dark clouds blotted out the sun–my sun–and I wanted to scream.  Instead, I choked back tears.  I am not a bad person; I am not a heathen.  I try to be respectful of all religions and most of their convictions, and I understand that some people feel driven to witness and to proselytize.  But why did this woman–this stranger–feel the need to judge me?

If Lance Armstrong had been on his bike on that track, I would have blasted past him in a blur as I pedaled furiously around and around, trying to cast my anger and frustration into the wind.

Finally, the prayer circle broke, and the woman began loading her children into their car.  As I circled past them for the last time, one of the youngest–a little girl who looked to be about three years old–turned in my direction and stuck her tongue out at me.

And then, I couldn’t help it . . . I started laughing.  I laughed at the sheer absurdity of it all, and I kept laughing as I slowed my pace, slowed my breathing and allowed the sun once again to peek from behind the clouds.  I had let a stranger’s negativity and criticism “get to me,” and I knew better . . . I knew better.

As I loaded my bike onto my bike rack a little later, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the woman’s children (and I realize that is probably judgmental on my part).  In their little minds, I was the face of evil–me, a lady who was a pretty good mama to three children of her own; me, a lady who dedicated 30 years of her life to educating and nurturing other people’s children; me, a lady who, if given the chance, would have hugged those little ones to her chest, placed them on her knee, and read them stories about hungry caterpillars and a boy named Huck and his best friend Tom.  And if I am the face of evil (me!), then their future world is going to be a very dark, dreary and scary place.

But I will not be a part of that world.  I refuse to inhabit such a dark, dreary and scary place; MY world is full of beauty and mystery and sunshine.  Peace be with you . . . and also with you, stranger woman, wherever you are.

NOTE: To see a larger version of any picture, simply click on it.  And please remember that all photos are copyrighted and can’t be used without my permission (I’m bossy like that). 
beach2012

I spent last Christmas Day with my family on the beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu.  This photo of my three sons walking along the shoreline at Malibu made me happy.

me63On my trip to Washington, D.C., in April, I was never more at peace than when I was surrounded by flowers.  This photo was taken by my friend Jamie Adams while I was snapping photos at Arlington National Cemetery.  (To see more of Jamie’s work, please visit him at http://www.laughingbunnyphotography.com/.)

canyon42One of the most majestic places I’ve ever been, the Grand Canyon helped me to realize the peace I was seeking was already within me.

canyon44The rugged landscapes of the Grand Canyon seem especially suited for black and white.  In this photo, storm clouds were rolling in right before sunset–and the white streak in the upper right corner is actually the remnants of a rainbow.  Perfect peace.

peace4I snapped several shots of the sunset over the Grand Canyon.  This was one of my favorites.

spring2

A recent trip to nearby Big Spring State Park reminded me once again of the peace I carry within me.

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About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
This entry was posted in Advice, Beauty, Gratitude, Photography, Simple Pleasures, Travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Battling for Inner Peace Against the Sunshine Thieves

  1. RayEtta says:

    Well I can imagine your feelings. Some attack that comes out of the blue is extremely upsetting, I’ve had it happen numerous times. Please write a blog about forgiveness sometime, that is something I struggle with. I have a friend that I love dearly, but is almost as fanatic as your lady in the park religious wise. I have Christian thinking in my background but really don’t care what someone else believes.

    The outdoors is where I always find solace, perhaps that is what is wrong somewhat right now. It has been so hot no one can take that dip into peace.

    • Because of my background in education–especially the last seven years spent as a principal–I had to learn to forgive and to “let go” of hard feelings, although the scars always remain. I am like you in that I am content to allow others their religious convictions, as long as they don’t chastise me for mine. I love the outdoors, too, and I think you’re right about the heat–it makes everyone so cranky!

  2. Jamie Adams says:

    Great pictures! God does not approve of people judging others — neither their actions or appearance. If one is sin-free, then please pray for those you find it necessary to judge. That’s what I’d tell that crazy woman (see… judgement right there).

    • Ha! It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it? And, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to judging others–but I do usually try to keep those opinions to myself. I’m glad you liked the pictures–I always appreciate your input and advice!

  3. Jessica Blackburn says:

    You inspire me, Karen. Thank you for sharing your writing.

    • Thank you so much, Jessica–that’s very kind of you to say. Writing has always been a passion of mine, and now that I’m retired and my boys are grown, I’m hoping to spend a lot more time doing it. 🙂

  4. Norman Eubank says:

    You were there to ride a bike, not to go to church. You wore what should have been worn to ride your bike safely. It’s obvious this woman was not a bike rider. Maybe you should have politely handed her the bike and said,”Here, you ride it in that dress and see how you do.” Did you have a flat? Did your chain come off? Did it storm with heavy claps of thunder and lighting? I don’t think God minded you riding your bike. You stated there were 6 kids in her lot. Maybe God wanted those kids to see an angel on two wheels. Maybe while mom had them huddled up praying, one of those kids was praying they could have a bike like yours and ride like the wind. Maybe that is why God brought her to the track that day at that time. He knew you could handle it and one of those kids needed a vision. Pedal on sister! Nerds take on the deal.

    • I’ve been trying to think of a suitable response, but I keep getting stuck on your comment “angel on two wheels.” 🙂 (Surely, you jest!) Seriously, I love the idea that maybe one of those little ones needed a vision and was secretly praying for his/her own chance to “ride like the wind.” There is hope, and I will keep pedaling. Thank you.

  5. Oh MY GOSH! People DO have nerve sometimes don’t they? I would not have been that nice to her. People need to tend to their own gardens and not worry about anyone else’s!! I feel for those kids, who will probably grow up very confused, to say the least. Great post and I love your pics!!!

    • Thank you so much, Debbie–I’m glad you liked it and my photos. I’m sure this woman felt she was doing the right thing by chastising me, regardless of my feelings to the contrary. And yes, once I got over my initial hurt, my heart went out to those children, even though I knew I was being judgmental (and maybe even wrong). Time will tell.

  6. Vonda Burkhart says:

    I am so sorry you had that kind of encounter, Sadly I understand fully about your situation, because I lived in that kind of restrictive environment for many years. I was only allowed to wear my pj’s in my home and not around company. That was the standard set by my church. I could not associate with my friends who were outside of the church unless I was trying to witness to them. I was always lacking in my spiritual life because I had an overwhelming guilt that I was always sinning because I would long to wear pants, or make up. I would drive to Branson to by wine so I would not be seen by my church and be reprimanded by the elders. Sadly they look only on the outside wrapping instead of the inner hurt of the heart. What changed my mind was the day a terminally ill man came to ask for help and because of the “strange” way he acted they would not help him, he had a brain tumor and could not coherently voice his need, which by the way was to get someone to move his bed at home, That was all, he was a dying man and came to our church for help My eyes were opened because I have a mentally disabled son who would do something like that, I could not imagine a christian not helping another in even the simplest task. All at once I seen the overwhelming pain and suffering that they were missing, my mind was made up. I came home put on the only pair of jeans I owned ( my rebellious heart would not let them be thrown out) and cried. I pray in my proud arrogant state I never treated anyone like you were treated.. After all who was it that Jesus came to help? Those that society case away, lepers, mentally ill, adulterers, robbers and thieves. who am I after all. I am a sinner I sin every day.. Just the right type of person for Jesus to help.. And I will take all I can get..

    • Vonda, thank you for sharing such a touching story. It’s obvious to me that you have a kind and generous heart, and I’m glad you were able to “rebel” against the restrictive environment that might have prevented you from sharing your kindness and generosity with those most in need of it. You are a beautiful soul.

    • RayEtta says:

      I understand the situation some. I have a dear friend that I love who has, especially in the past dealt with dogma a great deal. I think the woman in the park confronted the woman on the bicycle because it was where her children could see and she thought she was giving them an example. My great-grandparents and their parents were Quaker. They had many rules. I am glad you have found something that works for you. I don’t think life has to be that restrictive to please God, and I am not at all sure it would be necessary to confront a stranger.

      • Thank you, RayEtta. You’re probably right about the woman in the park wanting to set an example for her children; I just gave my children very different examples to live by.

  7. Mary Fritz says:

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE YOUR BLOGS!

    Mary Fritz

  8. liliofthefield27 says:

    Fascinating entry, Karen. Dear Buddha, girl, it would appear you had a “Close Encounter of the Turd Kind” with that most bizarre of alien species, the self-righteous, close-minded, holier than thou bible thumper. Bah! I myself, being a well raised lady, would have let her have it with a profound string of profanity…it comes rather easy to me, much to my husband’s chagrin. An eye for an eye, a tooth for the truth!

    Should you ever happen upon this precious daughter of delight again, tell her fire engine red is “in” this season because the devil wears Prada.

    Cheers!

    • Ha! I admire your gumption, and while it is tempting to spew, I’m afraid I’m too passive and non-confrontational to engage! I’m much more likely to walk away seething in my own self-righteous anger. Maybe someday . . .

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