rate of change

"This is how peace happens: with one person talking to another."

Stan Noffsinger, the general secretary of the Church of the Brethren, said those words to me many months ago.  On the International Day of Peace, I am glad more than ever to remember them. 

I spent Saturday morning at a different church, Willow Creek, learning about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a small handful of the lives that have been affected by it.  Benjamin Disraeli was right when he wrote in Tancred, "The East is a career."  It takes only a moment to become interested, but many lifetimes to understand.  My moment of interest was getting to know the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, and continuing to work with them today. 

The final guests at Saturday's presentation were Bassam Aramin and Robi Damelin of The Parents Circle, an organization of Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost children to the conflict. 

"Conflict" is such an inadequate word.  What terminology is appropriate for anger, violence, and fear on both sides? 

The Parents Circle includes more than 600 families today, and in the time that Bassam and Robi have become international activists, they have cultivated an unmistakable love.  It is evident in the way they simply be together.  More honest and decent a relationship I have rarely seen; that they come from "opposing" peoples only underscores the necessity of their friendship. 

I left Bassam and Robi feeling at once inspired, amazed, hopeful, overwhelmed, and a host of other emotions I have no name for as of yet.  I wondered how I could carve out a role for myself in peacemaking, and if I could possibly make any difference -- a young American woman, perpetually interested, effortlessly idealistic.  How could I purport to cultivate peace in this place, where I can walk safely in my neighborhood after the sun has gone down, where I can play music and make art freely, where I easily carry on without a clue as to how to protect myself from bombing? 

What does peace mean when war is gratefully so foreign? 

Bassam has said, "Our enemy is the same: occupation, oppression, hatred, and fear."  It is the responsibility of each one of us to cultivate a society in which these have no place.  Peacemaking is not reserved for those who have tasted the injustice of its opposite.  It is a torch we all must carry with tireless vigor; an effort in which each one of us plays an essential role. 

Peace happens person-to-person.  Millennia of violent wars have proven that bureaucracies and ideologies will offer no lasting solution to interpersonal conflict.  It is only through individual efforts that change is made. 

I wrote in my little journal, assuring myself that my efforts are not wholly inadequate, that peace is made one person at a time, and that activism is not built in days.  As with most important and seemingly insurmountable problems, the rate of change is slight, but each increment is a milestone. 

There is another lesson to which I continually return: that of Melinda Gates, who said, "Let your heart break.  It will change what you do with your optimism."  I hope that I am never hardened.  In the past, I have lamented feeling too much, but I know now that tears are preferable to numbness, and that the sadnesses of life are what encourage us to make it better. 

My heart broke again hearing Robi's story of her son David, himself a peacemaker as well, killed by a Palestinian sniper, and of Bassam's daughter Abir, shot by Israelis when she was ten years old.  With their broken hearts they rescued hundreds of others from revenge and hatred.  Here's hoping that some hearts will still be intact when peace is finally achieved.