Living Outside the Box

Sometimes in meeting for worship we are knocked off our comfortable seats by revelations arising from messages from without and within. Last year on Veterans Day weekend, the vocal ministry at Sarasota (Fla.) Meeting, led off by our beloved Friend Eileen O’Brien, focused on war and peace, and evoked much discussion after meeting, all of which prompted these thoughts:

War is concrete: tanks, guns, planes, and soldiers marching. Reminders of war are scattered about our landscapes: in museums; cemeteries; city squares (lots of generals on horses); in Hometown, USA, where lists of the fallen are honored on plaques; and in Washington, D.C., where the Vietnam Wall is the most visited memorial. In my area, there’s even a World War II fighter plane outside a restaurant.

War is embedded in the culture: It’s glamorized in movies, music, plays, books, videogames, and on the evening news. It is in our language. We "battle" for the environment and, ironically, for peace and social justice. War is ceremony, parades, and a national holiday. War is fraternity. Think of all the organizations that bring together those that have been involved in its making. Bravery in battle is a yardstick some use to measure the character of a man.

It is how we organize the study of history. Sometimes it’s how we reference personal events. It’s in a family’s history.

The making of war is high on the list of government priorities. There seem to be no limits to our country’s expenditures for war. We as individuals participate in this process each time we write a check to the IRS.

Against this backdrop, peace seems almost a foreign concept. The alternative choice. Outside the mainstream. Nebulous. Almost impossible. Arduous, like pushing a rock up a hill. A void. What’s going to replace all those statues of generals and lists of the dead? Is this why we feel so boxed in by a construct that could obliterate our planet and ourselves?

The reality is that peace is life-affirming, kinder to us and the planet, and much, much less costly. It is vital to our survival. In our hearts, it is what we devoutly wish for and know is the only way.

We need to redefine ourselves, our environs, our country, and our world in terms of peace. Many of us are working for peace but sometimes Quakers think of themselves as "islands" of peace in a violent world. Instead, let us weave peace into the fabric of society and put it on the calendar, into the budget, into the culture, and in the national psyche.

We can start with ourselves. Why not celebrate our own personal Peace Day, create a peace budget, make a decision to choose non-violent entertainment, and forego war news? I am sure our children can come up with wonderful ideas.

Kurt Rowe, a member of Sarasota Meeting, e-mailed us this postscript: "In a world consumed with violence and war perhaps giving or receiving a hug is a good place to start the change our planet and species needs."

Fran Palmeri

Fran Palmeri is a dual member of Sarasota (Fla.) and Annapolis (Md.) Meetings.