As 2008 draws to a close, I (like everyone else and their brother, sister, mother, etc.) turn my thoughts to the events that occurred during the last year. There were the things that affect us all, like the crash of our economy, the election of our first African-American President, and the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – these things have changed our lives, and the lives of so many people world-wide. There is so much we still have to accomplish: Fairness to all, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, economic class, etc.; achieving some measure of peace – CAN that ever happen, given that human nature is basically territorial and competitive?

I believe it can – if we all work toward it. The events in my life this year are a testament to that process. During this last year, in spite of a pretty rocky relationship with my mother, we went on a trip together and not only got along but were able to explore new areas, bond, and have fun.

I also made contact – as of yesterday, ironically enough – with an uncle my family has not spoken to for 25 years. I don’t even know or remember what started the feud, but my mother intensely dislikes her brother and I imagine the feeling is the same for him toward her. I don’t know, though, really. I finally decided that I’d had enough and that it was time that SOMEONE ended the standoff. Even if my mother and he never speak again, I wanted to know him and find out about his life. I’m glad I did, too. I found out that his wife of over 45 years had died, that he had met someone in the years following her death, and that they are engaged. I’m thrilled that he has found happiness again, and I’m even more thrilled that he didn’t hang up on me when he realized who I was. We have exchanged an email, and sent pictures.

The point here is that someone has to make the first move. In the field of psychology there is a whole body of literature regarding conflict resolution, creating peace, and healing from violence…from what I remember, it boils down to being willing to talk AND to listen – on both sides. Although my conversation with my uncle was short, I was willing to listen and not judge. And to be fair, I let my mother know I had contacted him, and was willing to listen to her hurt. It was not easy, but again, I’m glad I did it. Peace, whether individual or global can ONLY happen when we are willing to be open, to talk, and to listen, regardless of whether we agree or disagree. I’m an idealist – I still believe it’s possible, and try through my words and actions to live in a way that promotes peace.

Another large change involved my son, Aidan. He went through another diagnostic evaluation and was placed in special education for his autism – in spite of my clinical training, this was a challenge for me as a parent. It’s much easier to deny the truth and blame someone else that it is to accept and deal with things. Again, this relates to peace-building, because sometimes we have to be open to hearing and accepting things we don’t want. It’s not easy – I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t devastated by the diagnosis. I didn’t want to hear that my precious child had a fairly severe developmental disorder – what parent EVER wants to hear negative things about their child? Yet, in accepting and working with this, I am helping him. His preschool, composed of 15 children similar to him, has been a God-send and he is making great progress.

Aidan on his 5th birthday - Oct 7 2008

Aidan on his 5th birthday - Oct 7 2008

In my world, I also accomplished a long-standing goal of earning my Ph.D. My degree is in Counseling Psychology, and my next step is to find work. In this economy, that will likely be difficult because I am hoping to work in community mental health and many agencies have had their budgets cut. Even so, I hope. I believe that working in this area will also further peace, albeit in rather non-obvious way. People can’t work toward these higher goals, such as peace and understanding, when they can’t meet their own basic needs – food, shelter and health. Mental health has been traditionally underemphasized in our culture, and I want to work with those who may not be able to afford the care they need. Again, though – living and working our values is a key component here. I believe that my work in this area will further my goals for creating peace, because I will be working toward building a community where people’s needs are able to be met. Yes…I really AM idealistic! 🙂

And an even more realistic hope…that we can live in a community where our diverse values, beliefs, cultures, and appearances can be accepted. Unfortunately, this is more idealistic than I’d hope, because we still live in world, a country and a culture where “jokes” that point out differences are still common and where exclusion is still practiced, even if in a more subtle way. Our election of Barack Obama, whether or not you agree with his politics, does point to the progres we as a society have made – even 10-15 years ago, the election of an African American to the highest office in this country was a fantasy. This year – no matter who won the election – we would have made history. That alone gives me hope.

So, as we close this year and wonder what the next will bring, my hope is that we will continue our movement toward peace and toward a more unified, diverse, sensitive, and caring culture. As a friend of mine put it, this is all a process and doesn’t happen overnight. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to working that process, and to making the next year even more groundbreaking and hopeful.