Two leaders died this week, both with incredibly different legacies. One nuclear; one Velvet. My context of both is drastically different: My picture, driven by the media, of Kim Jong Il is a crazed, power-hungry, slightly insane man. My picture of Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, is a man of integrity, humor, creativity and passion. This version was shaped by his friend, a fighter pilot from WW2, who was my professor.
I studied abroad in Prague during college. It was a random choice – a time when I was seeking to identify my own calling and identity. This small, formerly communist country, which one has to stay in for more than a week to realize the effects this had on it, changed me. It was my first taste of learning of nonviolence, of meeting people who had drastically different beliefs than I did (or maybe I was just willing to listen this time), of living on the other side of the world.
I was forced to find peace in new ways. And having examples around me like Vaclav Havel, forced me to see a different kind of truth.
The Czech Republic is quaint country. Their size and voice in the world is small enough that they didn’t have to compromise their values after their freedom was gained. The Velvet Revolution that Havel helped lead in 1989 was amazingly peace-full. I imagine after the devastating effects of communism, their values were the only thing left beating inside of them. Therefore, further violence to their community wasn’t even an option for moving forward.
When a country or a community grows too large, certain voices become louder than others. There are more pieces to work with and some get lost in the shuffle. Values and voices are drowned out by statements and policies, platforms and the majority.
I believe the same to be true of our egos. The bigger an ego, the more it is based on a false self, moving away from those little voices of truth that hold the key to true reconciliation because too much is at stake – like one’s pride. This was the case for me in Praha. I didn’t have any arguments left for my roommate who had taught in the inner-city.
Why can’t people just work harder – showed my ego and privilege shining through. The world seemed so simple, our nation so powerful – anything was possible, but at the same time, it wasn’t so simple and I needed to recognize that in my own heart.
Some people say, it can’t be fixed; it’s too late. They say this about congress, and they say it about personal relationships. Even as politicians argue into the holiday season, it’s as if we can feel the drastic tension and juxtaposition of the two leaders who just died – hurry choose a side – violence or pacifism. Are we fascinated with peace or tyranny? By the amount of coverage being given to one side…. I am willing to take my bets.
When I hear thoughts on choosing sides, on stubbornness, on lack of working together, I am grieved. I also think we all need to go back to kindergarten. Especially during a time of year when we’re supposed to be helping each other. Even if someone doesn’t do it all year long – for some reason, now it’s acceptable. Fine. I’ll give you that – start somewhere.
But so much of what happens around family dinner tables, in family histories, and in our own soul looks much like congress. Divided, torn, indecisive, unable to heal or move forward. Lacking peace. Just get through it.
When I consider the Christmas season, though, I feel a little warmth, because in a season with extreme similarities 2,000 years ago, at a point somewhere in the middle of it, the Christmas story happened.
It didn’t happen at the beginning of time; it didn’t happen at the end. The ultimate act of peacemaking happened in the middle. There was work before and there continues to be work after.
This narrative is something that struck me this week after a friend said in church that peace doesn’t mean calm, but it doesn’t mean violence. I hold peace and madness at two opposite ends. Even in my own ego. I want to shut down the voices that rage and try to move into some sort of even-keeled state. However, he again reminded me that joy doesn’t mean happiness either.
So often this season gets wrapped up, literally, with false hope. A sense of happiness and tension rule as we move to the table. Hopefulness moves into fix-it mode as we try to alleviate family patterns that have been present for so long. But the problems don’t need fixing as much as we need to listen to our own tensions first. Our healthy egos and advocates need to be louder than our narcissism. And that doesn’t look calm – it looks like the tension that fissures before we choose, not sides, but a way of making healing peace or hurtful violence… even in our own heads.
Sometimes the most violence committed is against ourselves. So how else are we supposed to make peace if we don’t even know how to reconcile with our own voices?
As I have grieved in my small way this week for Havel, I am reminded of what fueled him – his passion – until the end. This didn’t fuel over-the-top goals or wishes, or even fame – it fueled a reconciled way of viewing the world. He always let his ego speak, but not in cruelty, rather with his creativity. If he had an issue, he wrote a play. His country had the grace to accept him as he was and for them, at the time, that is what they needed to move forward in peace. Just acceptance moving out of ignorance.
So maybe the first step to peace talks this Christmas is accepting ourselves in the middle of our stories and only then, maybe, can we start to accept others in the middle of their own. Moving forward toward working on and considering a peace-filled future – in which the key words to consider there are “working on.”