by Cara Lopez Lee
The Friday before Christmas, my 16-year-old sister’s high school cancelled some special events because someone phoned the school to make a nonspecific threat of violence. Maybe it was a prank by someone taking advantage of the climate of fear created by the Sandy Hook shootings, or maybe it was a real threat. Either way, it put another damper on that popular holiday phrase “peace on earth.” But what struck me most about that incident was the conversation that took place a couple of nights later at my dad and sister’s house.
The three of us were eating dinner at their small table, when Dad started talking to me about Friday’s threat and why the school responded the way it did. Before he could finish his thought, my sister insisted, with the condescension that only a teen can muster, “It wasn’t a threat. It was a rumor.”
My father tried to explain that the question wasn’t whether it was a threat or rumor, but whether it was a credible threat or an empty one. But he couldn’t get a sentence out without my sister insisting on how many teachers, students, and officials had used the word “rumor,” so that Dad was clearly wrong.
“It was so stupid,” she said. “They had all these police around with flashing lights and guns and riot gear. Everyone said they were overdoing it.”
I chimed in, “But can you imagine if the threat turned out to be real, and they hadn’t done anything?”
“It wasn’t a threat. It was a rumor,” she repeated.
She was like a dog with a bone, and when I suggested she let it go, she said it wasn’t my business. “I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to my dad.”
I pointed out that I was part of the conversation and there was nowhere to escape the tension that hung over the tiny table. She finally let it go…until after dinner, when she tried to tell me one more thing about “the rumor.” When I suggested she give up trying to win her argument with Dad, who was no longer at the table, she looked shocked that I’d suggest she had any such motive.
And so peace disappears at home.
Since I’m visiting the Writing for Peace blog, I’d hoped to talk about peace in a cultural or social sense. I’m a world traveler. I was in China when a frightened-looking Tibetan apologized on national TV for disgracing himself by daring to protest against Chinese rule. Last year, I stayed with a family in Mexico at a home next-door to an abandoned drug rehab center that had been shot up by a drug cartel. This fall in Guatemala, I met a taxi driver who fled his village during that country’s 36-year civil war.
But my mind keeps going back to that petty family argument. And once my mind goes there, it goes a little A.D.D. and turns to a colleague who this week broke a promise to me for the dozenth time, then to an online acquaintance who yesterday tongue-lashed me in an online group simply because I didn’t phrase a tweet in a format she preferred.
I once heard a story on NPR, in which a representative of a peace-promoting organization said they had a proven method for negotiating peace. The way he said it, suggesting that he had a no-fail, sure-fire, guaranteed formula, made me laugh. I seem to recall shouting aloud in the car, “How can you guarantee peace between nations, when people don’t even have peace in their homes?” I was thinking of people who don’t feel safe to express an opinion at home for fear someone might harm them. I was thinking of the victims of abuse who carry it with them like a contagion. I remember a coworker who used to set everyone on edge with her angry, critical attitude. Later I discovered that her boyfriend was hitting her at home. Work was the only place where she felt safe to assert herself.
Have you ever seen The Cup, a sweet independent film about young Tibetan monks in India who love soccer as much as enlightenment? They struggle against difficult odds to get a satellite dish so they can watch the World Cup. At one point, the abbot is teaching a class and he asks the students a question that I’ll never forget:
Abbot: Can we cover the earth in leather so it’s soft wherever we go?
Cook Monk: No.
Abbot: So what can we do?
Lodo: Wear leather sandals?
Abbot: Yes, wearing leather sandals is equal to covering the earth with leather.
It’s old wisdom, but true. World peace is a worthy goal, and I’m not suggesting leaders and people of good will should give up the struggle to achieve it. I am suggesting we might not get very far with the larger struggles of places like Syria and Israel unless we can begin to master peace in our homes, and within ourselves.
Whenever I get grand ideas about becoming a great peacemaker, I ask myself some humbling questions: Can I let someone else be wrong without having to prove I’m right? Can I keep my word even when it’s difficult? If I criticize someone, will it help either of us to grow or will it hurt them and shrink me? If someone wrongs me, and I must confront them, can I start by assuming they acted in good faith?
I’m always planning the next big goal, but I believe my most important goal is a small one: to keep doing the next kind thing. Given what happened at my sister’s school, perhaps you thought I’d address violence and guns, but I’ll leave that to others more qualified. Instead, I think I’ll put on my leather sandals and give my sister a call to wish her a peaceful New Year, to talk about whatever she needs to talk about, to discover for myself what peace sounds like.
About The Author
Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands, co-author of the novel Back in the Real World, and creator of the Girls Trek Too blog. Her stories have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, and Wazee Journal. She was a TV journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for shows on HGTV and Food Network. Cara teaches youth for the Lighthouse Writers Workshop and also coaches adults in the craft of creative writing.
Happy New Years from all of us at Writing for Peace!
We have received so many wonderful submissions for DoveTales, that our Board of Directors has made the decision to postpone the launch of our first issue to February 1st. Thank you for your support. We’ll keep you posted!
The Writing for Peace Young Writers Contest is in full swing, with entries coming in from all over the globe. The contest is open to writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, for ages 13 to 19. Contest deadline is March 1st, 2013. Spread the word to young writers everywhere! You’ll find contest guidelines here.
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