Peace at the Bottom of an Exhale

Peace at the Bottom of an Exhale

April 15, 2014

by Aubrey Allison
Now I wear this coat, silently making myself all over again, shaped into a figure beside the red water, watching the sun rise, the green coat over my shoulders, hearing each step confirm my place... —"Overcoat" by V.P. Loggins in Ruminate issue 28

When I was in college I had a friend who used the word “peace” in a way that annoyed me. “I prayed on it and God just gave me a peace about it,” she would say. One of our friends, a new Christian, asked us how do we know if we’re making a decision based on what God wants, or what we ourselves want? “Well, just see if you have a peace about it.”

Some of us don’t just get peaces from God, I wanted to say. It’s not that easy. And what does that even mean, anyway, “a peace”?

Three years later, I have moved to Seattle and started working full time. My family is 2,086 miles away. My friends who are still in college are on the opposite corner of the continent. My friends who have graduated mostly ended up in Austin, Texas, where I also had a job offer. But I turned it down, and I moved here.

I had a boyfriend here with me when I moved into my apartment in this new city. A few weeks ago, I told him maybe that wasn't the best idea, so he left. Now it's just me.

Starting out new has been the biggest challenge in my life. But I have a peace about it.

Of course, this still doesn’t answer what it means to have "a peace" about something. I know it doesn’t mean ease. This peace I have is still a peace in which I sit in the Fred Meyer parking lot clutching a cup of coffee and pray that I can stop crying stop crying stop crying. The sky has been a diffused gray for weeks. Still, I know for certain that this is where I’m supposed to be.

I picked a back issue of Image Journal off my shelf not long ago and came across this monotype by Ruth Weisberg:


There it was—peace.

I spent time with Weisberg’s work in a kind of lectio divina, considering the hymn that says peace like a river.  

“You cannot step twice into the same stream,” says Heraclitus, “for other waters are ever flowing on to you.”

I found articulation of peace in the woman’s posture. Hands grasping nothing. Surrender.

Christian Wiman writes in My Bright Abyss that “even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change.”

I found articulation of peace in the jagged lines of reflected light. That tangle of light in clear water is never still. It ripples even when the surface is calm.

After my first week alone in my apartment, I left town for work, to run a ten-day writing workshop on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound. Adjusting to working full time is like progressing through a video game: every lesson and object I accumulate is meant for a specific purpose. The work takes everything I've got, but I've got everything I need.

I'm finding my rhythm. I took a break one day on the island and walked down to the rocky beach. The waves washed up, pulled back, up then back, up then back.

I listened for the fleeting silence after the ocean pulls a wave back, before it pushes up again. “There's a space at the bottom of an exhale," writes Mary Karr, "a little hitch between taking in and letting out that's a perfect zero you can go into."

There is a space at the bottom before you build a new life. There's a little hitch, between moving on from the routines and the people and the concerns that occupied your life in the past, and before the life in front of you is somehow yours.

It's just you. You move forward into what's forward. Hands grasping nothing.


I returned to my apartment in Seattle and wondered briefly when I'll feel comfortable saying I'm home.

On days when the sky is dull gray and this new life is no less good, but still just hard, I imagine the undulating lines of light over me, over my desk, my apartment. Tides washing up then back, rest, up then back. I have a peace about this. My hands are out and open. In this, my new home.



Readers, I want to share the artwork of Ruth Weisberg with you. Leave a comment below, and on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014 at 10:00 p.m. PST I'll pick one commenter at random to mail a copy of Image Journal issue 56, featuring the work of Ruth Weisberg.



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