“we are also heirs to those who won the peace”

On Monday morning, in the bright light of a cold January Martin Luther King Day, President Obama gave us an opening. Like many presidents before, he honored the sacrifice and strength of our soldiers, but then, he turned the tables:

“…we are also heirs to those who won the peace, and not just the war. Who turn sworn enemies into the surest of friends. And we must carry those lessons into this time as well.”

He reminded the world that bravery can mean something besides a willingness to engage in violence:

“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully. Not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”

He affirmed that an investment in peace everywhere is the key to security at home:

America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad. For no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”

He linked our country’s security to peace and justice for the most marginalized:

“And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice. Not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes; tolerance and opportunity, human dignity“And we must be a source of hope to the poor and justice.”

In his first term, President Obama often relied on violence, assassinating Osama Bin Laden, authorizing drones, increasing detention and deportation of immigrants. But, in this moment, at the start of his second term, the most high profile figure in the world challenged the narrative that says violence is necessary to build security.

I reject that narrative.  I embrace this one.  My work has always been and will always be this.

Obama’s actions do not reflect his words, but I am happy he said them all the same.  I believe he is struggling as I do, as we all do, to walk the path of nonviolence.  In his speech, he also spoke of the evolution of humanity. Ending our addiction to violence is a part of this.

In our daily lives we each wrestle with moments of choice.  How do I respond when my child is screaming in my face?  With a spank, yelling back, walking away, manipulation?  My boss has sent me an email that makes me upset, what do I say to respond?  This driver just cut me off, do I give him the middle finger?

These are the weapons of everyday, every moment.  Few of us must deal with the availability of a vast army at our disposal and the righteous anger of millions fueling our impulse to use it.

He gave us an opening. He gave himself an opening. I want to walk through that door.

Nightmares I remember

giant octopus

Age 4:

I am at school. It is empty in my classroom.  I walk through the long halls out to where the playground should be.  Instead there is a forest.  I see the kids and teachers hiding in the trees. I know what they are hiding from. I climb a tall oak tree with huge branches.  I hear a sound like a huge dream beating.  An enormous egg shaped purple dinosaur monster approaches me.  It says,”‘I will eat you and everyone here.  If you don’t want me to eat you, go get me some ice cream.”  I run inside the building.  I search and search and search. I find the ice cream in an old canvas magazine rack.  I carry the cold tub of Breyers chocolate out to the backyard forest.  The monster is gone.  The kids are gone. The teachers are gone.  I stand alone with the ice cream as it begins to melt. I am hungry, and it is my favorite flavor, but I will not eat it.   My stomach churns. Did I save everyone? Did I save no one? Did I save myself?

Age 16:

The sun glares off of the sand dunes.  I feel the power of the dark horse beneath me. My hair is whipped by the wind. My robes flap and flail behind me.  My people ride behind me with urgency.  We must return quickly for the ceremony.  I arrive at the longhouse.  There is trouble, famine,  war approaches. I am the clan leader. The high priest tells me that it is time.  We walk out to the side of the building.  A long iron rod sits in a bed of hot coals.  The starshaped brand will mark me forever. I I raise my bare right foot. He places the brand against my sole. I do not cry. This is the only thing I can do.

Age 23:

I stand on a sun-drenched hillside.  The bright green grass blows lazily in the breeze. There are dozens of children around me giggling joyously, at play.  A gray cloud moves across the sun and the breeze turns cold.  Over the hill crest, I notice water rising.  A bulbous form the size of a hot air balloon emerges.  The tentacles reach toward me – so many I can’t count them. They grab small bodies, lifting them into the air, squeezing them.  I fight one arm at a time. I can do it.  I free one child, and the now empty arm seeks out and plucks another child.  This will never end.

Age 36:

I sit in the driver’s seat of my old four door silver Honda civic.  My husband, my two children, my parents, my grandparents and all my kin by blood and by spirit, sit in the car with me.  I am excited to take this journey with them all.  We are taking a vacation to Ocean City, M.D.  I pull onto the bridge that crosses over the water.  I can smell the salt air,  feel the summer heat on my skin.  The radio is playing “Miss Independent” .  Then, right in front of me,  a silent wall of water, 10 stories high, appears before me.  Above me, the arching water touches the blue sky where seagulls soar.  In the car, we are all silent.  There are no words