On Sept. 21, with a ringing of the Japanese Peace Bell, and a minute of silence, the UN will recognize International Day of Peace. If I’ve ever been aware of this particular recognition, it’s gone in one ear and out the other, as I was surprised to see it pop up on my calendar. I had to Google it.
I grew up wrestling with the mere concept of peace. My uber-conservative, fundamentally Christian, Barry-Goldwater-button-wearing grandmother saw to that.
“God hates peace,” she told third-grade-Emily, when I came home from school singing, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
One might think she would have been pleased that the public school I attended taught their kids hymns to sing at Christmastime. But she chalked it up to the “liberals” weaponizing education, going to war against conservatives by teaching their children dangerous and radical ideas like “peace.”
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She went on to tell me that we should expect, and even embrace, war. Violence. Killing. That these were part of the human condition assigned by God almighty. We should be suspicious of peace, as that was the work of the devil.
Her words ensured that I would never feel peaceful about the word, “peace.” I adored my grandmother, you see, and tried to believe her. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to believe this, and at 8 years old, I decided to think for myself.
Years later, I must admit, her viewpoint was never clear to me. To this day, I only catch fleeting moments of understanding what she was even talking about. But I continue to mull over the concept that peace is bad. She installed a devil’s advocate in my brain, constantly questioning.
There are, in fact, holes in the piety of peace. A pat definition of peace easily fails.
When I think of peace, I think of calm. Quiet. Relaxation, even. I picture birds tweeting above me while I swing in a hammock. By that definition, peace is passive.
Peace is also misused in another passive sense, as a synonym for “compliance.” In today’s political discord, I see bids for peace, urged by those who are pleased with the path this country is on. But that’s not peace, either. That’s wanting others to be quiet while you have your way. And as long as the person on top, who has no complaints, is the one urging peace, it will be a one-sided peace that is enjoyed, while those on the opposing side either fight or lose.
But the International Day of Peace celebrates a different kind of peace, one that is anything but passive. This year’s International Day of Peace theme is: Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All. It’s so simple, until you get to the last two words.
“For all.” And then, holy cow, that’s a lot of work.
If we want to embrace peace, we have to stop telling each other to “just get along.” We must see the other side — and offer that side respect. We must make sure everyone is safe. If I’m lounging in my hammock and others are in peril, that’s not peace. It may be needed rest — relaxation — but it’s not peace.
My grandma may have been right: that peace is radical, that it’s dangerous. It is a threat — to those who have the upper hand, because it can only be achieved with compromise. But was she right that God doesn’t love peace? Well, I’m going to let God speak for himself on that one.