Peace Takes Courage

January 28, 2008 at 7:09 am Leave a comment

Peace is Courage

            A couple of days ago I was behind a car with a blue bumper sticker that stated: Peace takes Courage. I knew that the words were really directed as a reflection about our war, but I decided to read it for exactly what it proclaimed, and how it applied to myself. My first thought was that peace generally isn’t difficult at all: Saturday morning, me with my latte, Cholla playing at my feet; that peaceful stuff comes mighty easy. Then I flashed on my recent panic during the holidays about driving over the Siskiyou Mountains in the snow.  I stayed in a motel overnight, and practiced putting on chains over the trash can with visions of me spinning out over the mountain in the snow. I snuck Cholla into the motel room, fearful of her freezing solid in the car, and of anyone seeing me slipping her in. No peace there. The big events: Russ and his diagnosis of cancer, my heart beating wildly and shock climbing in enough to somehow force my brain into some semblance of management.

            So peace. Visions of calm, of Mona Lisa sort of smiles, puppies rolling around on their backs, sunflowers turning lazily towards the beams of the sun, holding hands with a loved one, homemade bread coming out of the oven perfectly plump and rich with the smell of molasses. I think of evenings in Hawaii on the beach, poking slowly through the sand looking for the tiniest shells possible with the push of the wave surge exposing the best, and finding those shards of sunrise shells, orange and brilliant and beautiful.

            I’m not going to look it up, but this is what I know about courage: it is doing whatever it is that we are scared of. I told my sister that I was courageous to drive over the pass in the snow because I was scared out of my mind to do so. For her, it’s no big deal. She learned to drive in the snow. She drives on black ice. Me, I hadn’t had snow fall on my head since I was 6. Most fear comes out of whatever it is we haven’t experienced, any unknown, and this could be little, in our small sheltered lives. I see it in kindergarteners each year on the first day of school. Big round quiet eyes, a mild look of panic, some children try to make a bolt for it to escape the thirteen year public school imprisonment, and wrap their tiny arms around the legs of a parent.

            As a society, these are immense: fears about land, about skin color, religion, language, education, money, health care…and we hang on so tight, and we fight so hard to control and defend and we get so lost (over and over again through history) whomever is fighting doesn’t even really know who or what he is fighting for because in the trenches, it’s all about survival, not idealism; like the shock that helped me along through the illness and grief, when the battle or the storm or the illness is right in your face, you will survive. Throughout the hundreds of letters my father wrote during WW2, he didn’t especially write about the issues we discuss in our history classes today; I don’t think he even once mentioned the name of Hitler. He wrote about loving my mother, about tossing hand grenades around, about towns being obliterated, finding a coat from someone “who didn’t need it” to stay warm, about the friends he made, about whatever sort of details he could find, written in a way to amuse my mother. In one letter, he said he was so scared he wanted to crawl into his helmet, and even that was written without much intensity. Survival is immediacy; the names of peace and courage are irrelevant, and only arrive as labels far into the future when the heartbeat comes into a normal thump thump pattern and reflection begins to organize experiences.

            Survival is just that. Survive. Ultimately, isn’t the intent that we all survive? We do survive, and wouldn’t the best choice be to survive as long as we can, as humbly, as peacefully, as possible?

            I might have missed something somewhere, but from what I tell children and what I see is that we have this one round planet with land, with water, with whales and birds and clouds that rise and fall without knowledge of which is what country. One planet. The globe I have here on my desk is one my mom gave me. It’s very simplistic; each continent is a different color, and the ocean is all blue. The concept of a shared space couldn’t be clearer. I love simplicity. It is stunning to think we can divvy up the space, say everything belongs to each share holder, and that no one can come or go; well, but maybe we’ll let some people sort of sneak in to do menial labor, and then we’ll build really high fences to make it harder for them to go home to see their families, and then make remarks about them because we don’t want to hear their language, and tell them to go home but then we need these people here so badly because who will cut our lettuce, clean our houses, serve us our water at our meals? Go away, come back; we play the tender ecosystem and heart of heritage and people like the master of a marionette without looking into future.

 I suspect we do all this because we are afraid. As a political culture, we don’t like to wait for change to happen; we don’t like creativity and boldness. We don’t like patience, we don’t like to solve the source of problems or take the courtesy of finding understanding. We don’t understand that health care, education, environmental care ultimately helps us all.  We don’t like to upset our implied sense of immediate peace, of those lattes in the morning when people around the globe don’t have rice let alone a coffee made with the indulgence of milk steamed on an expensive machine with electricity. As individuals, perhaps we don’t know what to do. We know the 50’s and 60’s adage of “eat your peas because someone in Africa is starving” is ludicrous, but do we get it in our guts the vast differences there are between cultures, and how much some people truly need simply to survive, never mind the peace and courage?

Peace does take courage, and it takes courage like this: in the face of conflict, of bitterness, of shame, of fear, of pain, can we/I take our/my breath in to push into, through, that fear with peace? Peace is easy when there is peace. It’s easy to smile and dance in the sun. In war, in conflict, making peace doesn’t come naturally, and it’s not exactly Wonder Woman or Clark Kent slipping into a telephone booth to radically change a persona into a pumped up bigger than life being. Peace is the overall, steady, actual heartbeat of the earth. Peace is the undercurrent of it all: the air that moves about all our collective bodies, the water that laps onto all the continent’s shores; the understanding and acceptance that earthquakes do happen, disagreements happen, people get sick, we get together to help, and life goes on.

            Peace during peacetime is easy. Then conflict: conflicts need courage in order to sustain peace, our desired gift of living.



Entry filed under: Opinions.

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