Thursday, September 21 is International Peace Day. To honor this very worthy occasion, I am sharing, again, an essay on peace for your kind consideration. Peace starts with each and every one of us. It shows its face in how we react and respond to everything that comes our way in our daily parade of input and exchange. Compassion, kindness, understanding, keeping our mouths shut can all lead to peace.
Go gently. These days are tender; our world is fragile. And each of us can help tip the balance towards peace by our mindful actions and considerations.
I’m of the Viet Nam and Kent State generation and can remember the feel of singing “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” The swaying bodies, the deep resonance, the fervent belief that if peace were found – because, oh so, certainly, it had been lost – then the world would be right. I was young and hopeful.
Today, I am not so young, but I remain hopeful for what I call everyday peace. I do not flash the peace sign, nor do I use the current generation’s lingo of “peace out.” Instead, I endeavor to live my daily life from a peaceful place, which, let me tell you, is easier said than done.
This means, I can no longer clobber myself unrelentingly for my personal screw-ups. Now, I must take a deep breath, try to open with compassion, and learn from my bloody stupidity, which, truth be told, is often my whining, less-than-mature ego that has decided to come out for a spin and scream, “What about me?” and make a huge, messy ruckus.
I am working hard to avoid war on every front. I want to defuse — note: I did not say avoid or deny; I said defuse as in wanting to extricate the red wire out of the ticking bomb — conflict, be it inner and outer.
This does not mean that I am meek and mild and without strong opinion. I am none of those things; in fact, my temperament often runs hot and fiery. My red face and flashing, angry-Snoopy eyebrows have been known to signal storm clouds.
What this does mean is that I consciously inhale – ahhh…in with the good air — versus exhale with a barrage of steaming vitriol. I do not verbally, mentally or energetically pummel you with my ire, as much as I might want to; nor do I instantaneously decide that you are a bold-faced idiot. I work hard not to polarize the situation and make you the boneheaded, unseeing, completely out-of-your-cotton-pickin’-mind wrong one as I shine in dazzling superiority as the one who knows best.
In younger days, my sniveling-self got pumped on those linear leaps of black and white, good or bad, right or wrong. It was satisfyingly smug to stomp and scream, confer and confirm with my compatriots that I was right and wonder what-in-God’s-name-was-your-problem. You became my nemesis, the enemy, the object of my righteousness.
Delicious, it was — until life wore away the patina of certainty and control, until I experienced firsthand betrayal and injustice, until I understood there are more than two sides. My eyes were opened, and the linear model no longer worked.
Of course, conflict is inevitable. There is no running or hiding. Alas, conflict exists everywhere. But does that mean enemies are also inevitable?
Logic syllogisms would probably suggest same, but, hey, this is a new world, a new day. I think we can work with a new model. I think many of us want to work in a different way, one by one, person by person.
My solution: everyday peace. By that I mean, I make an effort, you make an effort to create peace, no matter the size, no more the weight, every day, in response to all that the world presents to us. Small, daily steps that build person by person, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood to a world that chooses to operate from higher consciousness. Really, what do we have to lose with everyday peace?
Gandhi told us to be the change we want to see. I suggest we be the peace we want to see.
This is not wimpy work. It takes strength of will to stop reacting out of ego. It is stretching to learn to see the bigger picture. It requires creativity to find out-of-the-box solutions. It takes compassion to walk in another’s shoes. It takes wisdom to find the common ground.
Without peace, there is much more — more death, more darkness, more destruction, more fear, more grief, more division, more derision, more tears, more chaos, more trauma, more terror, more wounds, more broken hearts, more broken families, more broken countries. Without peace, we are constantly in pain, at war and at odds. We are hemorrhaging life force.
Peace is the root of all healing, be it healing of self, family or globe. Why not make peace with ourselves, with our families, with our neighbors? Consider the practice of everyday peace in your life.
As a parting gift, I leave you with one of my latest finds, a new poem to add to my favorite’s list entitled “Pray for Peace.” It’s an excellent reminder that everything can be done in the name of precious, healing and life-affirming peace.
Peace be with you, dear reader.
Pray for Peace
by Ellen Bass
Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or marble or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the Bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekinah, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.
Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, Record Keeper
of time before, time now, time ahead, pray. Bow down
to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.
Pray to the bus driver who takes you to work,
pray on the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus
and for everyone riding buses all over the world.
If you haven’t been on a bus in a long time,
climb the few steps, drop some silver, and pray.
Waiting in line for the movies, for the atm,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.
Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.
Making love, of course, is already a prayer.
Skin and open mouths worshiping that skin,
the fragile case we are poured into,
each caress a season of peace.
If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
Pray to the angels and the ghost of your grandfather.
When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer that as the earth revolves
we will do less harm, less harm, less harm.
And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail,
or delivering soda, or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard
with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas, pray for peace.
With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.
Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds for peace, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.
Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your Visa card. Gnaw your crust
of prayer, scoop your prayer water from the gutter.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.
ELLEN BASS’s poetry books include The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press) and Mules of Love (boa Editions). She teaches in the low-residency MFA writing program at Pacific University. Find more at www.ellenbass.com.