Living Peace Sign created in Hungary at Heroes’ Square Budapest 2005.
“Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men.” The words are easy to sing. The sentiments are both deeply rooted in our hearts and at the surface, ready to flower. Yet the thoughts of peace are shapeless and without structure. It seems that world peace is so far out of our reach that we are unable even to imagine it, to draw a picture in our hearts and minds of what it might look like. If we can’t “see” it, how can we create it? We have never really “given peace a chance.”
What would world peace look like? What would the earth and all of its inhabitants look like were humans to turn from war and domination to waging peace and understanding and building a truly sustainable world community?
Peace seems to have entirely vanished from our national and global conversations. Instead of seeking cooperation, our reactions to world events seem to have sent us running to our respective corners, anxious to demonize the “others.” Are we too afraid to even contemplate working collaboratively for the good of all? If we can’t win, must we take pleasure in making sure that the “others” lose as well? Has this not left us all fearful and lonely? What exactly are we hoping to gain from such divisiveness? This year has left me feeling exhausted, isolated, discouraged, and frightened. I want to pause and take a quiet moment to reflect. I want to focus on the lights of Christmas and Hanukah and Winter Solstice and ask myself, what can I do to help stop the madness?
Cool Dude’s recent death prompted some reminiscing about him and all the people who had interacted with him. This drew me back to Shigeko Sasamori. Shigeko was a survivor of the nuclear bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima City, Japan, during the final days of the second world war. I met her when she come out to Dunrovin in 2008 for her very first horseback ride. She was then in her seventies. My brother-in-law, Steve Leeper, had accompanied Shigeko from Japan to visit two cities in every state of the United States to share her incredible story of not only having survived the bomb, but of having lived a full life centered on peace and joy and forgiveness. They came as part of an effort headed by Steve to promote total nuclear disarmament in hopes of preventing others from ever having to experience the horrors that Shigeko had endured.
While I have long known of Steve’s participation in the peace movement, my question at the beginning of this article caused me to dig a little deeper. What does Steve think peace looks like? I have never asked him. Steve’s commitment to peace and to Japan is deeply embedded in his childhood and family. Steve’s mother, Midge Miller, and his late father, Dean Leeper, moved to Japan as missionaries for the YMCA to help rebuild the country after the war. It was there that Dean Leeper lost his life in a ferry accident during a typhoon, helping to save many lives before he drowned. The Christian Science Monitor gives a very good and brief account of Steve’s history in Japan and his affiliation with several international peace advocacy groups. Steve’s mother, Midge, later remarried my husband’s widowed father to create a large melded family.
The opening paragraphs of an article from the Japan Times about Steve Leeper’s appointment as the first non-Japanese leader for the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation points out the paradox of an American assuming that role:
“In a sense, it is the ultimate irony: The man appointed to oversee the memorial to victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, by an American B-29 aircraft is . . . an American.
“But antiwar activist Steven L. Leeper says that since his April appointment as the first foreigner to be chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation—which operated the museums and memorials—residents of the world’s first city to experience nuclear warfare have welcomed him.”
In reading about both Shigeko and Steve and their work in the name of peace, one theme continually repeats itself: looking ahead and letting go of the past. Had Hiroshima’s residents and nuclear bomb survivors wanted to nurse resentment and seek revenge against Americans for their suffering, Steve would never have been invited to participate with them. Had the US government, after the war, sought retribution from Japan rather than to rebuild it, Steve’s family never would have been there in the first place, and Japan and the United States would not enjoy the great partnership they now have. Acknowledging past injustices and wrongs and letting them teach us, but not letting them rule our actions and push us to settling scores or imprison us in endless cycles of retribution, seem to be an essential part of moving toward peace. Acknowledge, learn, let go, and look forward.
Steve has turned his experiences and energies toward cultivating a Peace Culture to initiate a dramatic world paradigm shift from competition to cooperation, from domination to equality, from the untenable to the sustainable. He recently started a Peace Cultural Village in Japan as a place to gather, work collaboratively, and learn from one another how to envision peace, draw a sufficiently clear picture in one’s mind to serve as a road map, and walk the path together.
I am once again grateful for belonging to an extended family with people like Steve, people who hold love and peace and service at the center of their lives. They have taught me so much. Just as love is an active verb, so too is peace an active noun. This past year has found me talking of “willful ignorance” on the part of those who would dismiss science and of passing scornful judgment on those beliving “fake news” rather than verified facts. What if I turned away from self-justification to understanding? What if I embraced “willful cooperation” to find even the smallest shred of common ground upon which I and the “others” could momentarily stand together?
Acknowledgement of the wrongs we have done to others can be painful and odious. Learning from them takes effort and critical self reflection. Letting go of the wrongs done to us requires humility and acceptance. Looking and moving willfully forward beyond the wrongs of the past is the only way we will ever find peace.