I'm not an elitist concerning who reads what I write. If I were, I would make it friends-only and I'd hoard my words to myself instead of spilling them out into the empty abyss of the Internet. I'm not even particularly concerned with copyright, or I would emblazon the infamous © all over it all. Don't steal my writing, though I find it a compliment that someone would try, but I'll put it up for anyone to read. I wouldn't know what to do if I were published, O Best Beloved. I wouldn't. I've thought about trying, my aunt the editor even suggested I submit First Light to MZB's fantasy. But I don't know that I'd ever try.
It just drives me nuts when people add people just to mess with them.
Real news later. A few other posts first. Namely, this:
Madeleine L'Engle, O Best Beloved. This woman wrote one of the most influential book series in my young life with the Wrinkle in Time series. And then there is her nonfiction...
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
Never have we needed peacemakers more. There is a peculiar horror in turning on the radio or TV for the news and hearing about Christians fighting Moslems, or Catholics fighting Protestants, or Jews fighting Arabs.
If I continue to struggle to think of the Beatitudes as a description of Jesus, it is bound to affect my understanding of peace, because Jesus, the peacemaker, the Son of God, said that he came not to bring peace, but a sword. And the Hebrew word shalom – peace- is not a passive word like the Greek eirene, a primarily negative word denoting the absence of war, but a positive word, shalom, the peace which comes after the last battle.
Do we have to think about war before we can think about being peacemakers? A teenager wrote to me about one of my books and then added, “We’ve been studying the Crusades in school. Can there be such a thing as a Holy War?” Can a Christian kill?”
It was not an easy letter to answer, nor did I answer it to my satisfaction. Offensive war, never. That’s easy. But defensive? Could we, in conscience, have refused to enter World War II? Could we have stood by and let Hitler take over our friends and neighbors and accomplish his mission of exterminating all Jews? We couldn’t, my generation, or at least so it seemed to us. And we had to take on our American selves some of the responsibility of all that caused Hitler and his rise to power. We felt deep in our hearts that the only way to be peacemakers was to fight the Nazis and then cry, Shalom!
But I have to look directly at the fact that the Hitler Jugend believed in the justness of their cause, too. They were saving the world. It’s confusing, this trying to think about war, and it makes me understand with deep pain that, despite the bite of that apple, a great deal of the time we don not know what is good and what is evil. We cannot tell our left hand from our right.
I was sorting these thoughts out one morning, and began outlining them to my friend Tallis.
He looked down his nose at me. “Don’t be so cosmic.”
“Am I being cosmic?”
“Yes. Don’t be.”
When I tend to go cosmic it is often because it is easier to be cosmic than to be particular. The small, overlooked particulars which are symbols of such things as being peacemakers are usually to be found in our everyday lives. Of course we’d rather have something more dramatic and spectacular, so we tend not to see the peacemakers in our own path, or the opportunities for peacemaking which are presented us each day.
When I need to think particularly rather than cosmically, I turn as always to my family, this time once again to the little boy whose sister hurried to the judo studio the day he had been punished for something she had done.
The judo lessons came about no because of the dangers of living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but because of the school bus in our small New England village. When Bion [her son] was in first grade the school bus stopped at the bottom of the hill, nearly a mile from our house. The two other boys who got off at the same stop were both older and bigger, and when there was nothing better to do, they jumped on the little first-grader and roughed him up.
Hugh [her husband] asked, “Why don’t you fight them back?”
Bion answered reasonably, “There are two of them, Daddy, and they’re bigger than I am.”
So when we moved to New York in the middle of the next school year, he had judo lessons. He enjoyed judo, and he was good at it.
One Saturday he took the bud down Broadway to spend the day with a friend. As he was walking the long block between Broadway and West End Avenue, three boys came up to him and demanded his money. All he had was his bus fare, which he handed over. He then went to his friend’s, and in the late afternoon borrowed the bus fare to come home.
He told us about it at dinner, and Hugh said, “Why didn’t you use your judo on them?”
“For fifteen cents, Daddy? I might have hurt them.”
He was, and is, a peacemaker.
So are many of the people I pass each day on the rough streets of the Upper West Side. I remember one time when we were setting off for Crosswicks [the family’s summer home] for the first weekend in the spring, and Hugh went to the liquor store to see if he could have a carton in which to pack some things. But the cartons had just been picked up, so the proprietor of the liquor store went next door to the pharmacy to see if there was a box there. There wasn’t, but the pharmacist went to the Laundromat to see if there was one there. . .
Peacemaking. Peacemaking on Upper Broadway, illumined by this quick generosity of all the shopkeepers on the block knocking themselves out to find an empty carton.
It’s there for me to see, as long as I recognize it. And I must recognize, too, the opportunities for being a peacemaker which are daily offered me. Nothing dramatic or spectacular, but lots of little things, and the smallness does not make them less opportunities.
Just on the walk between our apartment and the Cathedral [of St. John the Divine, the Episcopal cathedral in NYC] library, for instance; it’s a crowded time of day, when I take of in the morning a little after eight o’clock, with mobs of people going to work, sleepy, unready for the damp cold of winter, the humid heat in summer. Each morning I walk past a large supermarket. Across the sidewalk is a metal slide, sloping from a huge delivery truck to a side entrance of the market. There is a small gap in the slide, just large enough to let one person pass through at a time. A man in the truck sends heavy cartons down the slide, and they are lifted over the gap by another man who stands trying to do his job of getting the truck unloaded while people coming from both directions are trying to get through the gap. My dog and I are among them. The man struggles to get the cartons across the gap and onto the lower section of the slide under conditions which are, to put it mildly, frustrating.
One winter the man with this thankless job was large and strong-looking, but older than a man ought to be who has to lift heavy cartons. His skin, which had once been coffee-with-cream, was tinged with grey. His expression was dour, and who can blame him? Most people, hurrying to jobs which are no more than drudgery, thought the only of getting through this bottleneck which was impeding their way, a reaction which is nor more than natural. But my job is real work, and real work is play, not
drudgery. I walk through the dirty and crowded streets to a place of trees and grass and beauty, and within this place to a gracious, book-filled room where I am free to write and this is joy.
So, one morning as the dog and I slid through the bottleneck, I smiled and said, “Good morning.”
I got no response. Naturally. The sour look did not soften. Why should it? It was stubbornness which made me persist in saying “Good morning,” or “Thank you,” day after day.
One day he smiled back.
One day he smiled first.
Not much in the way of peacemaking, is it? But it is what is offered me each morning. And, as my grandmother was fond of reminding me, little drops of water and little grains of sand make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land. . .
When we are given the grace to be peacemakers even in these little, unimpressive ways, then we are the children of God, children by adoption and grace, but children nevertheless, who are bold to call him Father, Abba. So we children are helped to become peacemakers, and one day, we will truly be able to cry, Shalom!
The Irrational Season, The Seabury Press, 1977, pages 82-86
That, O Best Beloved, is the way I dream of being able to write. That sort of eloquence and beauty and conviction. That sort, O Best Beloved, of truth. No exposition, nothing more I can say to add to it.