Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Independence Day and Waging Peace

Driving home late Wednesday evening, we say the aerial displays of several community fireworks displays.  I thought about how beautiful the explosions in the sky were to behold.  I also thought of the words of the Star Spangled Banner with its "bombs bursting in air" and "rockets red glare,"  which were simulated by the fireworks. 

I was one of three native-born Americans at the Independence Day gathering of family in California.  Two were born in Kyrgyzstan and became naturalized Americans through adoption.  Three were sisters who had been born in Canada.  They were ethnically Polish and had been married to Polish men, all of whom have since died.  I knew the stories of two of the men, one of whom was my uncle, since his mother later married my widowed grandfather.  They had experienced some of the worst evils of the world.

My uncle was 11 when he was taken prisoner with his family by the Soviets for the crime of being a Pole.  He later was an underage soldier who fought at Monte Casino under General Anders.  His younger brother died in Siberia "because he was too young to live" through their time in Siberia.  His father also died.  His mother survived, but barely.  One other person survived from their town which was large enough to have scheduled railway service.  Even at his funeral, a gap was left for the years 1939-1948 since he spoke so little about that time.

The husband of a second sister was liberated from a concentration camp in Germany.  He had barely avoided being sent to an extermination camp.  His mother died in Auschwitz.  All for the crime of being Polish.  Yet he told his wife and son of his experiences so they could remember.

We had traditional American food--chicken, hot dogs, potato salad, chips.  We are all now Americans.  Independence Day reminds us of the freedom we have.  But, talking about family reminds us that those freedoms are far from universal.  Yet, I believe that all people have similar hopes for their lives and their families.  We all want to be able to provide a decent life for our families.  We want a say in our government so that government acts in the interest of its people.  We want to live in peace.  Which brings me to the second part of this post.

Over the weekend, I listened to a talk about how to make peace in the world.  Clearly, humanity has fought enough "war[s] to end all war" as WWI was described.  Yet fighting wars has not accomplished the goal of ending war.  Wars continue with greater destruction, especially of civilian populations.  Such behavior brings to mind the statement by Albert Einstein that insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  But, war is insane.  Albert Einstein realized that and preached peace. 

Most species try not to fight each other to the death, but rather only to the point of establishing dominance.  They want their own species to survive.  But humanity has nearly brought itself to the brink of destruction. First, through the arms race during the Cold War, when various computer glitches or weather balloons or the like led each side to think at one time or another that they were under attack by the other.   Thankfully, calm reactions prevailed and no counterattack was launched.  Second, through large scale environmental degradation leading to global warming, which might cause the extinction not only of our own species, but countless others.  And in the past decade there has again been consideration of the use of nuclear weapons.  But like the "war to end all war" was not successful in ending war, building weapons to discourage others from doing the same is counter-productive.

So, what is there to do?  That's where the discussion of "waging peace" comes in.  Waging peace is emphasizing helping others rather than dominating them.  It is non-violence, particularly non-violent resistance.  I have heard it said that non-violence cannot accomplish much except against a civilized country such as Britain, using the example of Gandhi.  Or, the United States, using the example of Martin Luther King.  But, many civil rights workers had their lives ended much too soon, as did many of the Black Americans they worked to help.  Similarly, the role of non-violence, led by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, in bringing down the apartheid government of South Africa is touted.  Again, many gave their lives in the pursuit of equality.  Many were jailed.  But, finally, they succeeded in ending apartheid.  Non-violence has also brought down other repressive regimes such as communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.  Activists such as Lech Wałęsa were jailed, though finally saw victory.  Unfortunately, many others who struggled for freedom never lived to see it.  So, non-violence can also work against suppressive and violent regimes.  (It has been estimated that as many as 200 million people died at the hands of communist governments or because of their policies.)

Like in waging war, people must be willing to lay down their lives to wage peace.  History shows us that many have.  But, at least there is the hope that things can change for the better.  Fighting innumerable wars has certainly not brought an end to war.  As Coleman McCarthy said “Warmaking doesn't stop warmaking. If it did, our problems would have stopped millennia ago.” But, non-violence has certainly had some impressive achievements in the past century. I don't know if it is possible to end war, but it is certainly a goal worth trying to achieve.  There may be some despots who can only be brought down through violence.  But, overall, it seems violence begets violence.  And the cycle continues.  So, I feel that we must begin to wage peace.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Early July

This week has been a busy one with work--a new batch of residents and recently saying goodbye to the old, Independence Day and a birthday.  Every year, these events all come together.  Unfortunately, writing must be put on hold.  So here are some photos of the flowers I got from my kids with a few more from the garden.  And I have added a short piece that I recently wrote for a writing class.  Unfortunately, my garden is not as productive nor as exuberant in its floral display as my mother's.

The house I grew up in smelled of flowers in the summer, freshly picked from my mother’s garden.  Poppies, roses, iris and lilacs were among her favorites.   We had hundreds of lilacs of every shade, singles and doubles.  Also hundreds of poppies and iris.  She loved the darker shades of both.  Her garden was one of her joys.  But it wasn’t just flowers for their beauty and fragrance.   

As much as she could, she would work in the garden, raising fruit trees of all varieties, vegetables from carrots to zucchini, and melons and strawberries.  Summer was a joy as we worked in the dirt to bring forth the produce.  And then, relax under a tree with a fresh picked piece of fruit, or simply lie on the grass and watch the clouds through the green veil of leaves and branches which swayed in the wind.  Even as a child, I remember feeling that the backyard was a piece of heaven, fenced from the world by lilacs and roses.

In the fall, as the wind turned cool and the leaves from the trees fell to the ground, we would sweep them up to compost to feed the flowers and fruits and vegetables in the year to come.  And sometimes the house would begin to smell of wood pruned from those trees which we burned in the fireplace as the nights grew cooler.  In the fall, too, my attention turned to my studies.  The house was full of books, nearly every wall was covered in bookcases.  And the books added their aroma to the mix of fragrances in the house.  Both my parents had read many of these books, and as a child, I began to add to the collection of books in the house.  

Winter smelled of homemade soups, junipers or pine or spruce and wet wool after coming in from the snow.  My mother regularly made barley, lentil or pea soup which was so filling on a cold day.  She often would prune branches of the evergreens for their beauty and fragrance which we would add to the fire sometimes in the evening.  And the smell of the smoke would mingle with the smell of chocolate or cider and cinnamon in the evenings when there was time to relax.

As the weather became warmer, crocuses would begin to pop up through the snow and then tulips and daffodils, which would find their way to grace jars and pitchers in the kitchen and living room with their beauty.  Spring was often rainy and the smell of the rains permeated the air to mix with the delicate scent of the spring flowers.

The fragrances of flowers or evergreens or homemade soups still take me back to the comfort and security of my childhood.  I recall it as a simpler time, a time I often long for, but to which I can never return.  The house has been changed, remodeled so that it is not the same.  The yard subdivided.  A few of the trees and lilacs remain, though it is far from the same.