Peace that Passes Understanding: Becoming an Adult in the 21st Century
Galileo co-conspirator Lydia Pape is a sophomore at TCU majoring in computer science. This fall she took a required speech class, and delivered her final assigned speech this week. We’re publishing it here without edits.
I would like to tell you the story of how I lost my innocence. Of course it’s not really that simple—it didn’t happen all at once, and arguably it hasn’t actually finished happening yet. But if I could narrow down the turning point between my long childhood and my young adulthood to, say, one day, I think that day might very well be the day after Election day, 2016.
First, some background. The election of 2016 is the first election in the history of the United States that I voted in. I was technically eighteen, but I was definitely still a child. While I was aware that my vote probably wasn’t about to win Texas, it still felt daring and heroic to cast a ballot as if I were actually an adult. I felt like I was contributing to this great fight against evil, and the feeling was good, because I was just sure we would win. After all, we had to.
I have always been what I call “happy by default.” What this means to me is that even in the worst of times, I have never believed things would stay bad forever; I can always count on eventually returning to my default state: that Everything is Going to be Okay. This idea is central to my Christian faith: in my church family we believe that One Day God Will Get Everything God Wants—that the world will be liberated from all forms of violence and hatred and Brokenness, and all will be right and Good, as it was always meant to be. I really believe this, and I believe that it is all that truly matters in the long run. It was admittedly much simpler to believe when I was younger. Nothing could shake my optimism then. The world was a good place. Or it was, at least, getting better. I knew it was. It had to be.
Well, then the election of 2016 happened. Maybe you’ve guessed: it did not go my way. My family spent Election Night huddled on our living room couch, staring at the TV in horror. None of us had expected this. My dad kept saying, “What a nightmare,” over and over again. Finally, when it got late, we gave up and went to bed. The results weren’t all in yet, but we could see that things were not going to turn out as we had hoped. I prayed and prayed that night. It made no difference. When I got up for school the next morning, our worst fears had been confirmed.
I don’t know what 2016’s election results meant to you. Nor am I here to make the case for why they meant to me what they did. But understanding my point of view at this time is important to understanding the nature and the scope of my loss of innocence. What the election results meant to me, and to my church family, was this: something terrible and Broken had just happened; how, we weren’t quite sure, but a truly bad person was about to be put in charge of our country. We were horrified, genuinely scared, for the future. How the coming administration would affect our lives, and those of our loved ones and fellow humans, both in America and elsewhere, we could only guess. I could only begin to understand the fears of the adults around me, but my biggest takeaway right then was that the world had just moved further from becoming the World God Wants, and we had been powerless to prevent it.
Like I mentioned earlier, this development in my worldview did not actually happen all at once. It happened, and is still happening, gradually, and mostly through my college education so far. I have taken classes in the humanities that have challenged my optimism at its core. I’ve learned about forms of prevailing evil in the world that I had never even dreamed of before. And the news has played a significant part in this paradigm shift, too. Ever since 2016 or so, I’ve started to become aware of the fact that our country is an incredibly fearful, racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, messed up place. And the wider world is, too. It’s all messed up. And when I talk about this with my family I do not use the words “messed up.” I use all the words I decided not to include in this speech, because it is beyond messed up.
A lot of coming of age, for me, has just been taking in vast quantities of information about all of the twisted ways in which previous generations have left the world entirely, irrecoverably, irreversibly, utterly messed up. No single person or group is to blame, I’ve learned, but collectively the adults of the past have left the world hopelessly messed up for us. These days I read in my college text books about the corruption intricately woven into the very fabric of every system we have ever used to conceptualize our existence and I think, really, you’ve left this mess for my generation to fix? Because I can tell you right now, I can guarantee you we will not be fixing this. Not anytime soon. Probably not ever. This is far beyond the realm of problems that mere human beings can ever hope to solve.
You have… seriously messed it up.
I can’t end it here though. After all this, my ever-persistent belief in the coming of the World God Wants somehow remains my default state. How this can be possible, I’m not really sure. If God really can get us out of the mess we’re in, then what is God waiting for? Does God think that humanity is going to work toward that Heaven-on-Earth Future I’ve been counting on all this time? Is this even remotely possible, considering the state of humanity these days? I don’t know. I may never have the answer. But maybe some part of it lies in what happened on the day after Election Day, 2016. The day after the world I had thought I knew had crashed and burned, the day nothing was certain anymore.
What happened was this: as evening approached, my mom put me on the task of making chocolate chip cookies. She had me make lotsof them. As I cycled batch after batch of them through the the oven, sad and tired people started to arrive at our house. Our church family. Soon our living room was crowded with friends, all of them miserable, and every time someone new walked in, they walked straight into hugs. It was like an anti-party, a somber gathering for sharing commiserations and comfort cookies. We had all needed this, after facing the crisis of coming to terms with our newly messed up world. Just on the brink of coming to terms with this myself, I found that I was deeply moved, watching this play out in my home. Remember, my own loss of innocence had really only begun to happen at this point. I was only just starting to realize how incredibly important this gathering was. Such an overpowering concentration of Love was a thing to behold. It spread through the room like a contagion, transmitted through hugs, infecting every heart with compassion for others. I have never felt nearer to God’s Great Future than I did that evening.
This is the shirt I wore that day. It says “Maybe All is Not Lost,” and when I picked it out that morning, I think I was really trying to make myself believe it more than anything else. It wasn’t until the anti-party that it started to feel true again. My church family was small, and the rest of the messed up world was so big. But God was not small. When I felt God’s presence in the heart of that little gathering, I knew that God would get Everything God Wants. Someday. Somehow. I didn’t have to have the answer. I felt a Peace that evening which passes all understanding of what is impossible for humans: Nothing is impossible with God. I believe that to this day.