Thursday, May 31, 2012

...pass the peace, please

Desiderata  [from the Latin meaning "things to be desired"]
Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. 
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. 
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

The year was 1971.  Home was a fifth-floor dorm room in South Myers at the University of Georgia. Pre-renovation. Five flights of stairs, no air-conditioning, two twin beds, a pair of small closets, a desk, an illegal popcorn popper good for heating soup and a Mateus bottle/candle holder (illegal on several counts) covered with decoupaged quotes and waxen drips.  

The poster above my bed was also standard issue for the times that were a'changin': Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, written in 1927. An obscure piece, the poem gained a degree of fame in 1965. According to the Wiki, "when Adlai Stevenson died in 1965, a guest in his home found the Desiderata near his bedside and discovered that Sevenson had planned to use it in his Christmas cards." 

Leonard Nimoy and Les Crane produced spoken word recordings of the poem. Both changed the line "Be cheerful" to "Be careful"...a sign of the times. Another measure of the poem's popularity in the Seventies: National Lampoon produced a parody called Deteriorata.

During this period, I also had purple bellbottoms and a borrowed mini-skirt. Illegal on all counts back home, the brown tweed a-line bordered on micro since my roommate was a good four inches shorter than I. The University of Georgia in the seventies was hardly a hotbed of controversy. Unless one counts the infamous parachuting streaker who landed on campus sans everything but boots and chute. HIs alleged response: "Ouch!" My mother called in a panic once after a report about campus demonstrations ran on a national news program. I assured her that no riotous conditions existed. Just some frat boys annoyed by the Hare Krishna's efforts to elevate Greek consciousness. The scandalous scuttlebutt: someone from the press handed placards to the brothers (frat, that is) and offered to buy beer if they would walk around in a circle behind the broadcaster in a staged protest against the war. The response: "No" (preceded by a pithy expletive, according to lore, first cousin to the afore-mentioned scuttlebutt). 

This was the era of Vietnam, the first televised war: surreal images of death and destruction were the backdrop of dinnertime conversation. Young boys fresh out of high school were the first to go to the steamy jungles of Southeast Asia. They were later joined by those beer-swilling, poker-playing college boys who were drafted - later "lotteried" - after graduation. And when they all came home, no bands played. My Marine brother-in-law told of garbage dumped by peace protesters on his ship (and consequently upon the men on deck) as it returned beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. How sad that an action in response to violence became violent. No bullets. Not a one. But the chants and slime that rained down upon those soldiers killed their spirits, stripped them of homecoming, stripped many of hope. They left Agent Orange only to return to misguided agents of peace armed with rotten oranges and insults.

Bill, a registered physical therapist, was sent post-college not to Vietnam but, after training, to a hospital in charge of a ward filled with anywhere from two hundred to four hundred men with spinal chord injuries. He hates war. How could any sane human being not despise it? But he cares deeply for those who go to that place we'd rather not see too clearly.

Rewind, then fast-forward. A dorm room poster. John Lennon's Give Peace a Chance. Followed by another war. And another. Instead of ordering young men and women to "aim and shoot", couldn't we at least aim high? I've quoted my friend, the other Bill, twice already in my posts...this friend who went to Vietnam, who paid the price to speak these words. Here we go again: 

As I travel all over the world to places as wealthy as Monaco or as poor as rural India, I find one recurring theme irrespective of religion, culture, education level or standard of living.  Just as a shake of the head means “No” anywhere on the planet, people simply want to live in provide for and raise their families, to enjoy social interactions.  It’s the same everywhere.  Only the crazies want to destroy others.  Only the desperate turn to violence to make a statement.  Almost everywhere that there is tolerance, there is peace.

The starting place is within. From the Dalai Lama:  The question of real, lasting peace corcerns human beings, so basic human feelings are also at its roots. Through inner peace, genuine world peace can be achieved. In this the importance of individual responsibility is quite clear; an atmosphere of peace must first be created within ourselves, then gradually expanded to include our families, our communities, and ultimately the whole planet. 

The seeds were planted long ago...praying for the harvest.


Charles Van Gorkom said...

For he is our peace,
who hath made both one,
and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;

Ephesians 2:14-18

Celeste said...