Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Tiny Drop of Water

For last week’s posting on this blog, Elephant’s Child [EC] left the following comment, which she has given me permission to quote today:

I believe that global peace can ONLY start with personal peace. On the world stage I am completely insignificant. A tiny drop of water. But perhaps, just perhaps, if enough of us commit to individual peace those tiny drops will become an ocean which consumes the world.

EC’s comment said “Oneness” to me. That is because I believe in the Holy Oneness of All Creation. As the poet Gertrud von Le Fort said decades ago, “Everywhere there is one and never two.”

So I went from thinking of that one droplet of water and how it combines with multitudinous drops to form an ocean—everywhere there is one and never two. All drops become one ocean in which there is no divide. Peace resides within all because all are One.

And so this past Wednesday, as I lay in bed waiting for sleep to claim me, I began to think of all the people who have touched my life and all those whose lives I have touched. I started with family—Mom and Dad, my brother and his wife, my nieces and nephew, my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. I went back into the 19th century—as far as I could go—back to the potato famine. Those relatives I’ve never met who fled that famine have touched my life because they touched the lives of their children. Their touch has been passed down to me. Everywhere there is one and never two.

Then I began to think of all those who have taught me and all those whom I have taught. Name, after name, after name—face, after face, after face—came to me. The number is mounting now you see. That is, the number who have touched my life. And each of those teachers and students had been touched by a multitude of others. So all those others—nameless and faceless to me—have also touched my life. Everywhere there is one and never two.

Next I began to think of all those who have befriended me throughout my life—classmates, colleagues, the nuns with whom I was in school, those I’ve met in clubs, those met when I’ve volunteered, the clerks who’ve been generous with their time when I’ve searched for something in a store, the restaurant servers who’ve taken my vegetarian order and smilingly brought my food. The bus drivers, flight attendants, postal carriers, librarians, nurses, doctors, lab workers, therapists. The list expands. So many people. Through them I am touched by all who have touched their lives. Everyone there is one and never two.

Do you see what I am trying to say? Tens of thousands, millions of people touch our lives. And we touch theirs. So many opportunities to give and to receive peace.

All those who have touched my life live on in me. And when I—that droplet of water that EC visualizes—touch the lives of others in peace then it flows forward into eternity, touching, ever touching, one person, animal, tree, shrub, flower, droplet after another into infinity.

One final thought: hatred, bias, fear can be passed in oneness just as peace can. They can be passed from generation to generation. If I am to be a blessing to this world, I must vow today to pass forward healing, compassion, understanding, nonjudgment, acceptance of differences, charity, and yes, peace.

I believe that peace is formed within the love that resides deep down within me. I hope to write about that love next week for I see love as the wellspring of peace. And that is what I wish you today—Peace, pressed down and overflowing.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Are Global and Personal Peace Possible?

Those of you who have visited this blog and left comments on the past two “peace” postings have written about at least two kinds of peace: global and individual. Anyone who has lived more than seventy years has known the lack of global peace.

In 1950, the United States, as part of the UN forces, entered the Korean War. Daily, the newspapers and fledging television programs brought us news of what was happening on that far-off peninsula. Pusan, Inchon, Yalu River, the Chosin Reservoir and its bitter winter, Seoul, stalemate, armistice, police action became part of our vocabulary.
For three years the battle raged north and south of the 38th parallel. At one point, the militia of the UN got close to Korea’s border with China. A massive number of Chinese soldiers repulsed them. Because MacArthur wanted to invade China, President Truman, commander-in-chief, relieved him of his duties. This caused an uproar in the United States. My father had no liking for MacArthur after his actions in World War II in which, according to my dad, “the general was interested only in the limelight.” So Dad applauded President Truman’s actions. Many didn’t.

On July 27, 1953, an armistice was signed. Tomorrow—Monday—will be the 64th anniversary of that signing. Officially, that armistice left North and South Korea still at war. Many American newspapers maligned President Truman for conducting a “police action” and not fighting until the United Nations won. According to Wikipedia, “recent scholarship puts the full battle death toll on all sides at just over 1.2 million.”

In college, I met a young man who’d fought in Korea. Like most soldiers, he didn’t talk about his experiences, especially at Chosin. However, everyone who met him during those college years noted a maturity beyond his age.

Since that war, our newspapers and television stations have taken us to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. A college friend wrote a poignant poem about that and about the Oneness we all share. Of course, we then had the years of war in Vietnam. After Vietnam we had the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia and the holocaust there.

Then we had El Salvador and Nicaragua. My poetry-writing friend went to Nicaragua to help those driven from their homes. I feared for her during those months because in El Salvador four social activists from the United States had been murdered as well as Bishop Óscar Romero. Thankfully, my friend came home safe and rededicated herself to peace and non-violent protest.

Between then and now, wars have acquainted us with countries many of us couldn’t find on the map or visualize. Israel, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Libya, Syria. And more. So many more.

So the question arises: Is there ever any possibility of peace? One of the slogans of World War II was—“The War to End All Wars.” Instead of that happening, the trenches of 1914-1918 led to World War II. Soon—on August 4, we will “celebrate” the 103rd anniversary of Britain’s entry into War World I.

Is there no possibility of peace? Ever since World War II, which the United States entered when I was in kindergarten and could read headlines, I have read a great deal about war because I’ve wanted to know “Why?” Why do we take one another’s lives? Why do we send the youth of our countries to fight?

So next week, I hope to share a final posting about my discovery—yours, too, I suspect—about peace starting with one. With me. With you. It is that Oneness that speaks to me of possible peace—perhaps only within ourselves. But if one of us can change, perhaps all of us can. Could that be? Could it? 


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Pursuing Peace—#2

In 1941, I lived with friends of my parents while my dad worked in a munitions factory in Parsons, Kansas. By the time I was in first grade, Mom, Dad, and my baby brother had returned to Kansas City. Dad then began to work at Salt Lake City, another munitions factory close to where we lived in Independence, Missouri. I was too young at the time to connect munitions with either war or peace.

Dad was thirty-six when the war began and blind in his left eye from a mining accident. Because of this he could not join the army. However, he hoped to become a Seabee. The Seabees were construction battalion units that built naval bases in the various theaters of war. Dad was a steamfitter; he felt certain he could serve his country with his work skills.

The Seabees, however, turned him down because of his blind eye. Not being able to serve devastated him. It made him feel, I realized much later, as if he weren’t a real man. The consequence of this was that Dad became an alcoholic. He drank for the rest of his life, always feeling, I believe, that he was a failure as a human being.

Throughout the war and during all my grade and high school years, my father’s drinking terrorized me. When sober he was a kind, thoughtful, gentle man. When drunk on hard liquor, he became belligerent and sometimes violent. The arguments Dad and Mom had at those times frightened me because I feared he would harm, and possibly, kill her. 

I longed for quiet, for no arguments, for calm. That is how I began to think of peace—as a great calming of the waves of rage, fear, pain, and abiding grief within my father and mother.

When they argued, I would go to my bedroom, lie face down on my bed, and imagine myself lying on a grassy hillside. I’d be on my back, looking up through the branches of a white-blossomed apple tree while swallows swooped overhead amidst cushiony clouds edged with the gleaming gold of sunrays.

In that place. On that hill. Beneath that tree, I found peace—a peace that I came to know as serenity many years later.

As the arguments raged, I initially heard all the anger and pain because there was no door to my room, just a privacy curtain hanging in the frame. But as I lay on that hill and listened to birdsong, felt the whisper of breeze against my cheek, smelled the rich loam of the earth and the fragrance of apple blossoms, all my senses settled into the calm of peace. In a world of my own making, I lived beyond the arguments. That, then, was peace for me.

Many years later, Dr. Nimlos, the psychiatrist who saved my life, said, “Dee, if you hadn’t had that hillside you would, I think, be totally psychotic. Or dead. It saved you.”  A few months ago, I heard for the first time the song “Pure Imagination.” Its lyrics helped me remember what Dr. Nimlos had said: it was my imagination that enabled me to live through those tense days. My childhood imagination had enveloped me in peace.

That blissful scene on the hillside may have saved me, but it also became what I expected from life. In the convent, I expected no dissension. In friendships, no dissension. I remained caught in the romantic notion that peace meant a life devoid of any kind of disagreement. It took years for me to let go of that idyllic view of peace. The peace I wish you now is not idyllic. It is hard won. Peace.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pursuing Peace—#1

Recently a friend asked why I sign off on my blog postings with the word Peace. That question prompted me to think of my history with both the word and its meaning. Today I’ll begin to share with you my initial memories. I suspect I’ll be writing more than one posting about my relationship to peace, but here’s where it all began.

I was five years old and in kindergarten when the United States entered World War II. My parents had told me before then that England was fighting the Blitz and that RAF pilots were defending the island nation. Dad used a large world map to show me Great Britain.

“The British airmen are defending England now, Dodo,” he said. “We’ll probably end up entering this war. Like we did the last. This time we’ll fight for real peace.” I know I didn’t understand the words war and peace then.

However, in 1942, the song we heard repeatedly on our radio was “The White Cliffs of Dover,” sung by the English songstress and actress Vera Lynn. The lyrics spoke of the RAF pilots—called the bluebirds because of their blue uniforms. Lynn sang of their valiant efforts to defend their England and bring peace. That song is perhaps when I first understood the emotions that peace implied.

Between December 1941 and August 1945, I was like most children in the United States: we saved money for war bonds; collected scrap metal for the war drive; and listened as our parents talked at the supper table about the bold newspaper headlines on the battles, which were being fought on multiple fronts.

Several times each year, we gathered around the radio in the front room to listen to President Roosevelt’s fireside chats. By our beds each night we knelt to pray for our fighting men. We laboriously printed short letters to soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. We were all in the fight together; all of us—those fighting; those on the home front—were pursuing peace, which my mother told me was “elusive.”

Kitty-cornered from Saint Mary’s Grade School was a small grocery store. It was there I went after school one day a week to buy a few necessities and to present Mom’s ration books and the cash she’d given me that morning. The store’s owner had thumbtacked two maps on his wall: one of Europe, northern Africa, and Asia and one of the Pacific islands.

Each time I came into his store, the owner, whose name I’m sorry to have forgotten because he touched my life with goodness, gave me a history lesson. After I’d made my purchases and while I waited for the town bus, he’d summarize the war effort. Using thumbtacks, he’d show me where our soldiers were advancing or retreating. He’d point to islands in the Pacific and make educated guesses about where the marines would land next. He’d read to me from the letters his son sent.

Early on that son trained at Fort Leonard Wood, which had been built in the Missouri Ozarks in early 1941. He shipped out to the Pacific where he learned jungle warfare and finally fought in the Battle of Luzon. His letters, like all the military sent, had blackened letters. “Can’t let no spies find out what’s happening,” the grocer would say to me.

Frequently, he spoke of what he’d do when his son came home. Of how they’d run the store together. Maybe enlarge it. Of how they’d agree to disagree without fighting. Of the peace they’d share. Slowly I fashioned a picture of a world not torn by war but woven together by that peace.

Until we meet again, may you know peace.