by Callen Harty in Life After Hate
I was twelve or thirteen when my cousin Rick was killed in Viet Nam. He had been killed by an American booby trap. I became a pacifist as I stood at the cemetery and saw the flag of his nation draped over his casket, as I heard the sky shattered by three guns that split the air. The sound of those guns shot through me and killed a part of my soul. Since that day I have spent decades promoting peace wherever and however I can. Sometimes it seems fruitless and yet I know that change does not come in one moment, that the journey toward peace is a road I willingly travel and which has its own rewards.
With more than 40 wars and armed conflicts occurring in the world at this moment, with executions of citizens still permitted in 70 countries, and with almost 500,000 murders a year worldwide, how can one man or woman hope to promote peace in such a violent world? And yet I know I must. Peace begins in the heart of one. If I do not act, even in some small way, then I am complicit in the violence around me.
Images come to me, of a lone man blocking a tank in Tiananmen Square, of a Viet Nam War protester putting a flower in the barrel of a National Guardsman’s gun. A lone man or woman standing for justice can truly have an impact on the way of the world. Then imagine the possibilities of joining hands around the world to pursue a path of peace and justice. If a single man standing in front of a tank can stop an army then what could a world of committed activists for peace achieve? If a single woman placing a flower into a gun barrel can make us all stop and think of the meaning of her act, of the power of that gun barrel, then imagine the power of citizens around the world planting the seeds of peace in myriad ways. Every act puts energy into the world that reverberates for all.
One day in summer when I was in high school I was at a park where two boys were about to fight. Without thinking (because it was probably not the smartest thing to do) I put my body between them and asked them not to fight. The antagonist grabbed me and threw me to the ground. I quickly got up and stood between them again. He grabbed me and threw me to the ground once more. I can be very stubborn, so again I got up and stood between them. I think he knew this could go on for quite some time, probably until he had to hurt me, and I was not the target of his anger. At that moment he gave me a quizzical and I think a respectful look, then turned and walked away. Perhaps he caught up to the other boy later, but I don’t think so. I think I saw in his eyes a moment of change when he gave me that look.
Did I stop the next war from happening with that act? No, of course not. Did I alter the world in that moment? Yes, I believe I did. There was one less fight that happened. There was at least one person I believe was changed in that moment. And moments like that can have ripples of effects that we may never see, but which change the world for the better, one person at a time.
The reality is this. I cannot stop all war and violence in this moment in time. But I can create peace in the world around me. I can change my neighbor, who may change her cousin, who may change his community. And I can do that in simple ways. If I wish to see peace in this world I have to understand that it begins with me as I pass through each day in this life. I have to understand that my actions (or inactions) have consequences. I have to be willing to live a life of peace in every moment.