Growing up, whenever my mom was asked what she wanted for her birthday or a gift-giving holiday, her answer never wavered: “All I want,” she would implore, “is peace on earth.”
Cue the groans from her offspring, particularly when I was a moody teenager. Peace on earth was a vague concept for me because, as an American, I grew up in a relatively peaceful time in the country. Wars – like the two that devastated the globe – transformed from a time of sacrifice and ration to remote affairs, supposedly neatly confined affairs where drones dropped bombs and any type of civilian sacrifice was seen as a sign of weakness. Until mass school shootings and 9/11 occurred I thought “peace” was something from my mom’s generation with Vietnam. I knew I wasn’t supposed to fight with anyone, but I didn’t fully understand the concept – what it meant to be compassionate, considerate, and seeking justice until later in life.
All too often, peace is contrasted against battles – from our nation’s early history of Indigenous erasure to the Civil Rights Movement – and kept contained in history textbooks. Yet what’s happening in Ukraine and the October terrorist attacks in Israel by Hamas once again highlights a mother’s plea for peace. Also, peace here in my home where violence against our population’s most vulnerable – the unhoused, those facing challenges of addiction or mental illness, and a growing economic and housing insecurity – are occurring, often encouraged by misinformed and misguided elected officials. Peace fits neatly on holiday cards or is often a part of the liturgy of the season. This is the time of the year when many of the world’s religions celebrate their sacred season, but what does peace look like in our hearts and homes?
We’re continuously confronted by a landscape, often digital and remote, where peace is at odds with everything. We point fingers, look away from pain and suffering, and continue to draw lines about what is ours, who belongs, and who is left out in the cold. I’m a mother now, too, so peace on earth and in the car on the way to school is a daily prayer that mends my lips. I’m a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a granddaughter, a friend and a writer. In all these roles, there is a desire to see us lay down our arms, both weaponry and the fear that imprisons us. The kind of fear that has transformed our nation into a place where we’re willing to sacrifice our children or even our freedom to attend a movie so that unfettered access to military weapons remains unchecked. The kind of fear that bans books, outlaws reproductive rights, and strips away rights because of a person’s gender or sexuality. The kind of fear that allows so-called social networks to be the breeding ground of hate and online harassment.
My mother – as incredibly brilliant as she is – isn’t the only one who continues to ask for peace. My guess is we all do. Who wants this fear and violence? I used to concede that I’d be more kind to my brother, believing that peacekeeping was for the bigwigs or presidents. I couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, those in the upper echelons of power should be charged with peacekeeping, but it also begins with each of us. How peace looks can vary from bearing witness to struggle to advocating for those who might not have the means to do so. It’s shutting down hate online and looking for shared interests.
This holiday season, I’m focused on the ways bringing peace on earth goes beyond vague platitudes and into action. I’ve got to try for mom, haven’t I?
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