Planting Seeds for Peace
“The essence of the story of separation is the separate self in a world of others.”
“Interbeing doesn’t go so far as to say, ‘We’re all one,’ but it does release the rigid boundaries of the discrete separate self to say that existence is relational.
– Eisenstein, Charles. Climate: A New Story. North Atlantic Books.
While doing research for a lecture on the history of women in herbal medicine, I came across the story of a pioneer woman who was home alone baking bread while the men were out doing their utmost to exterminate the local natives. As she pulled the bread from the oven, the door flew open and a native warrior in full battle regalia burst into the kitchen.
Placing the bread on the table, the woman calmly sliced two pieces of bread, buttered both, then taking a bite of one slice, she offered the other to the warrior. The man took the bread, sat at the table and shared with her. When they finished eating, he rose and addressed her, “You and your family will never be harmed by my people. “
In Victor Hugo’s story, Les Miserables, so well played out in the movie of the same name, Jean Valjean is sentenced to years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread in a desperate attempt to feed her sister’s children.
After Valjean’s final release, Inspector Javert, who had developed a vendetta for Valjean while the latter was imprisoned, becoming obsessed with hunting him down to destroy him.
Through the intercession of a goodly priest, Valjean is able to change his identity and develop a new life for himself during which he makes it a point to help all those he can, but he is ever aware of the constant threat of being discovered by Javert.
Years go by and through a series of circumstances, Javert is captured and turned over to Valjean by French revolutionaries, but rather than kill the man who mas made his life a living hell, Valjean gives Javert his home address and releases him.
“You will find me here (at this address)” he tells him. “You are free.”
Then he turns and walks quietly away.
In the face of Valjean’s lack of desire to have vengeance, Javert is no longer able to hold the projection of evil he has pushed onto Valjean for so many years. He is suddenly faced with himself, realizing that the qualities the hated and wanted to destroy by destroying Valjean were in fact aspects of himself.
What we judge and want to change or reject in others is too often what we fear to face in ourselves. Yet we all have all these qualities within us. Valjean was able to face and work through the negativity, pessimism, resentment and hate engendered by the severe injustices of a life of poverty and prison. Having no secrets from himself, he was able to bring prayer and a commitment to God to his process, enabling him to be of service to others and live in integrity. Unable or unwilling to face those same qualities in himself, Javert became unconsciously possessed by them.
I read a story in the paper some time ago about a Muslim man who owned a convenience store. He was working the late shift when a man suddenly came in pointing a gun at him. Having dealt with robbers in the past, the store owner opened the cash drawer, stepped back and said, Take all you want.”
But it was not money this racist intruder was after. Instead he taking the offered cash, he shot the Muslim in the face in racist rage.
The perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced to the death penalty. The Muslim man recovered and the photo in the paper revealed the wonders of plastic surgery, but the article said he would suffer pain for the rest of his life.
But this is not the end. The store owner who’d been so viciously shot in the face, fought for years to keep his would be murderer from being executed, arguing that to kill this one man would solve nothing because he knew the problem was much deeper and that this one man was but a symptom. I remember him quoting his mother’s wise teachings and I wish I had not lost the article so I could repeat those words here and tell you the man’s name.
Hate does not heal hate and though I have no doubt the man who’d been shot must have initially suffered the anguish of grief and rage as well as physical agony, he did not choose to stay there.
One day, listening to NPR news while driving to work, I heard about a country in Europe (Sweden maybe?) that actually puts into practice the philosophy of rehabilitation that I’d been taught in elementary school was (supposedly) the aim of our prison system here in the United States. Except in the most sensitive crimes, victims and perpetrators face one another through a mediation practice and the perpetrators are required to provide restitution to those they have injured. Through the process of meeting their victims, perpetrators begin to see the pain they have caused. This shifts them from viewing others as objects to real people on whom they have inflicted pain.
Unlike this country where victims of crime and racism are too often left on their own to repair, recover and heal or even worse, simply to survive, the victims in this European nation receive the help they need and perpetrators are given an opportunity to make amends for their crimes, offering them a chance to heal as well. The deeper collective wound of separation that inflicts us all in the modern world beings to shift. No longer does the criminal see others as objects separate from themselves. It is much more difficult to be racist or violent to another when we are able to acknowledge common ground and recognize the commonality we all share as living beings on this Earth.
No longer is the black man an object to be destroyed. No longer is the Earth or a woman an object to be raped.
According to NPR, that country in Europe has a record low rate of recidivism.
The Muslim man’s persistent battle to keep the racist shooter from being executed eventually caused the shooter to say that the man he had once sought to destroy was the best friend he’d ever had.
“In the face of destruction,” my Lakota teacher Rose taught me so many years ago, “create.”
Create. Plant seeds of Beauty. Create Beauty. This is the Time.