What a Paramedic Learned About Finding Calm in Chaos

Few would dispute that we are living through tumultuous times. But I’ve come to realize that it’s important to enjoy life every day – not just wait until things get better. For me, finding a place of peace within the storm can help me to feel stronger in the moment and also in the long term. Fortunately, I’ve had plenty of practice at this as a former 911 paramedic.

Oftentimes, our ambulance crew would arrive on the scene of a chaotic car crash or a tragic shooting, with people who no doubt awoke that morning never expecting to be a victim. The uncertainty of everyday life I witnessed as a paramedic is just a microcosmic version of the uncertainty we all face in the world each day. It can be difficult to understand, but even within these times of questioning and bewilderment, I found great comfort in remembering that we are made by a God who knows the very number of hairs on our head. Within the space of calm there is hope, and within hope there is peace. 

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But how can I find peace in an ever-changing world that seems to move beneath my feet? The secret, I’ve found, is that peace is within, not without.

One important point I try to remember is that we are never truly alone. God is always with us, and we have an army of angels and saints that we can call upon for whatever we are facing. Prayer is a team activity, since it involves the help of angels and saints, and can alleviate the sense of isolation that’s so prevalent in our society. I find that a quick, simple prayer helps, like “Father, please protect me and fill me with your peace.”

A practice that I began as a paramedic and still continue today is daily meditation. The simple practice of deep breathing and meditation has been found to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure. In addition to measurable physical benefits, meditation is good for the soul. Even five minutes can sometimes have a profound effect. Personally, I’ve found that quieting the mind allows me to hear the message of God, for whatever my needs are in the moment. This can be done on a bus, at your desk, when you awake, or before you fall asleep at night. There are literally hundreds of ways to meditate, but I’ve found that having a usual routine makes it easier, where I can focus on the purpose of the meditation, rather than the process itself. My preferred time is at night before bed, and  includes deep breathing to quiet my thoughts and focusing on healthy relationships, good physical health and a good spiritual relationship with God.

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If you’re lucky enough to live or work near a church, a quick visit can be rejuvenating. The church is not just for Mass, it’s also for quiet reflection, prayer and contemplation. For me, there’s always been something wonderful about shutting the door on the noise of the traffic in the street, and stepping into the quiet of a beautiful church. If there are other visitors, it reminds me that I have a community of faith in the world around me. I’ve always found this to be very encouraging. It puts me in the right frame of mind for spiritual reflection. If you don’t have a church nearby, a park or open area outside can be God’s outdoor sanctuary. 

Another source of peace and encouragement is remembering the tough times that God has brought us through already. In 2009, my hours were severely cut at my job to eight hours per week. After my initial panic, I decided to view this as an opportunity, and started my writing career. Though I had a degree in journalism, I had no experience. Every job listing had hundreds of applicants! But against all odds, I was able to support myself as a freelance writer within months. Having faith in myself, and more importantly, faith that God would provide a way, helped me to succeed where hundreds of others were failing around me. You no doubt have your own story of how together with God, you overcame difficulties in your life. Remember that story from your past – it is a gift for your future!

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Finally, words have power. They have the power to hurt or to heal, to conjure fear or to inspire strength. Reflecting on words that inspire calm and strength can restore the spirit. Some words that bring me joy are faith, love, mercy and abundance. Make sure that your words are words of encouragement and healing.

Sacred Scripture can be restorative and perhaps even more so when spoken aloud as a declaration. One of my favorites is, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) When I found myself in difficult situations as a paramedic, this verse helped me to remember that God is far more powerful than anything I was facing. 

Simply calling the name of Jesus, an angel or a familiar saint can have a profound and immediate effect. The name of Jesus is infused with great power and love. Is there an angel or saint that you have a particular devotion to? My unfailing help is St. Pio, or more affectionately called Padre Pio. I also carry a medal of him in my pocket to remind me he’s always nearby.

Peace, I’ve found, is not a physical location or even the absence of chaos. It is a state of completeness in the moment that I’m reminded that God is here with me.