Peace on Earth

Merry Christmas

from New Zealand

New Zealand’s Pohutukawa flower (the NZ Christmas Tree) Image credit: Sarang/Wikipedia.com

Christmas in New Zealand arrives right on time for a summer celebration.  While I see pictures of Christmas celebrations in the snow from around the world, that seems completely foreign to me.

We have the usual pine Christmas Tree in our homes, but the real tree of Christmas (and probably the most well-known symbol of New Zealand Christmas) is that which produces the flower above.  The Pohutukawa tree.  If there are plenty of the red flowers out in time for Christmas, we know that summer will be a good one. Most of these trees are found in the North Island, where I spent my childhood, so I have lots of good memories of them, although they’re not that common down here in the south.

I grew up having a hot Christmas dinner of roast turkey and ham, but really it always seems a little crazy considering the warm weather outside.  Now days, and today’s plans with my family, will be around the barbeque outside followed by pavlova and fresh berries for dessert.

So that’s my Christmas plans, but I have to admit that I’m not big on the whole Christmas theme.  The reason I think I struggle with it is this expectation that everyone will be on their best behaviour, and we are cheerfully ‘nice’ to people who during the rest of the year, we perhaps don’t want a bar of.  If only we could use Christmas to find peace in our world and in our families.

I wish for a Christmas that spells the end of war. 

I wish for a Christmas that spells the end of hate, and a return to loving our neighbours.

I wish for a Christmas that contains no crime.

I wish for a Christmas where we all stay safe from harm.

I wish for a Christmas of love, especially for those grieving as a result of crime and war.

I wish for a Christmas of peace.

There are no doubt millions of people in this world who wish for the same, regardless of any religious beliefs they may or may not have.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could take those individual wishes and turn them into both an individual, and global reality?

Santa Claus, presents and singing Christmas Carols are simply not what matters, in my mind.  What matters is working out what each of us, as individuals, can do today to turn this planet towards peace.

Image credit: FB/ONE HUMAN FAMILY

Image credit: FB/ONE HUMAN FAMILY

Two years ago my family celebrated Christmas with a new child, my niece L.  She was born about six weeks before Christmas.  It was to be our last Christmas with everyone there, as my father died suddenly four months later.  It was a stressful time for us as the earthquakes had started to hit Christchurch and while we were all together, it was a difficult time.

A baby in our midst lightened the mood and promised of good to come.  She bought hope.  We had no idea of what trauma we would go through in the months to come, how much we would lose, and how much pain there would be.   But somehow L’s presence in our family gathering offered us hope and joy.  And no doubt today, she will continue to provide that to me.

And that’s on my mind as I’ve picked out this music (complete with snowy scenes for those who need that to connect with Christmas).  The lyrics veer towards a Christian understanding of Christmas but I don’t think that needs to exclude anyone.  We can use Christmas to celebrate new life, regardless of our religious beliefs.  That’s what I’ll be doing anyway.

I wish you all peace, love and hope as you celebrate your Christmas.  Enjoy the young.  Take joy in their lives.  And most of all, find a way to be at peace with yourself, and with our fellow beings.

“Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special!  How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer…. Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? ” 

―    Bill Watterson,    The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

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Dona Nobis Pacem

“Grant Us Peace”

Trying to achieve peace within myself has been a life-long battle, not helped by long-lasting mental health issues.  Achieving peace is a battle I continue to work on daily.  The Dalai Lama says that peace can’t be achieved in this world until I find peace within myself.  I think he’s right, purely for the reason that I am part of this world.  I am affected by what happens in this world.  Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it?

I live in a small country, almost on the edge of the world, called New Zealand.  Our population is only 4.5 million.  I know that’s pretty small, but it needs to be kept in perspective.  Our statistics might not sound much, until you think about the proportion of people in our population affected by the country’s decision to be a part of war.  We all with be familiar with the six degrees of separation.  In New Zealand, that shrinks down to around two, maybe three degrees of separation.

In the 11 year war in Afghanistan, 11 New Zealand soldiers (including one female) have been killed in combat.  It doesn’t seem like much does it?  But what if one of those 11 soldiers was your flesh and blood?  Then their death becomes personal, and the war has a deep impact on your life.

On top of those 11 kiwi soldiers, there have been many more soldiers from around the world who have died, and then there are thousands of civilians who have also died.  If they were your family, this is very personal.  If you are/were a soldier there, then this is personal.

Six weeks ago New Zealand  sent its last group of soldiers to Afghanistan.  This is the last troops that will be deployed from here, as New Zealand is pulling out its troops in April 2013.  I watched on the television channels here as those troops said their good-byes to their families at the airport.  It was gut-wrenching stuff, not only to see parents saying goodbye to young children and husbands to wives, and vice-a-versa, but for one reason that must have been at the heart of most kiwis watching that day.

Just a few weeks earlier a total of five kiwi soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, in two separate incidents.  Those five were from the same battalion as this fresh group were from, at Burnham Military Camp.

How could this new group of soldiers say good-bye to their friends and family, and have any sense of peace of mind, without this in their heads.  And how could families say good-bye without wondering whether this would be their final good-bye?  Would they come back in a box, like their friends and comrades had?  I dearly hope not.

Peace of mind?  I don’t think so.  All in the aid of fighting a war.

Saying good-bye to troops headed for war is something my father knew only too well as a child.  There was very little peace of mind for him as a six-year-old, and my grandmother, when my grandfather would be sent off to World War Two.  Some 92,000 kiwi troops went to this war, the maths is mind-boggling to consider just how many kiwis were left at home, with little peace of mind.

Grandad as Lieutenant S.T. Reddell (1942)

You can read more about my feelings about my grandfather’s involvement in Peace Not War   (Passion Profile Challenge #1).  He was in the Royal New Zealand Navy Intelligence division.  He ‘officially’ served his time in the War in the National Home Office in Wellington.  ‘Officially’ he never left the country.

Unofficially though, and the reality for my father and grandmother is that, he ‘would go away’ for weeks at time.  They wouldn’t know where, or for how long.  It just happened that the ‘trip away’ would coincide with a naval ship or submarine leaving Wellington harbour around that day.  They could see it leave the harbour from their temporary home in Kelburn.

To this day no one in the family knows where Grandad went, or for how long.  He died in 1969 after a long illness related to his war injuries, but he was never allowed to tell anyone the details of his trips away.  From the rumours, I think I’m glad about that because there would have been no peace of mind for anyone had they known where we suspect he was, or what he was doing.

Peace matters to me on a personal front because of the experience of my father and my grandparents.  But it matters to me on a global basis for much more than this.  I don’t believe that we were put on this planet to fight, kill and injure each other, let alone innocent by-standers.

“We are connected to the sky
and connected to the earth.
Together we are the conductors of nature.
Let our song of connection be forever beautiful.”

Image and words used with kind permission of Alison Pearce (see credits below)

We are connected to the sky and the earth, but we are also connected to each other.  Regardless of our history, race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, sexuality or even simply our thoughts… we are brothers and sisters, as fellow human beings.  However we choose to believe that we appeared here on this planet, and regardless of what higher power we choose to believe or not believe in, we are all one species.  So why would we choose to kill each other?  Why would we choose to destroy another’s family?

I believe that we choose  war over peace because it is easier.  Certainly not easier for those caught up in it, or watching loved ones in it, but it’s an almost simple way to win an argument.  Just kill the opponent, or at least anyone who matters to that opponent.  End of argument.  Apparently.

If we could simply lay down our arms, and talk.

If I disagree with my neighbour, we stand in the drive-way and talk.  It works because we are prepared to listen and understand each other’s  perspective.  It works, and while we have differences, we can still be friends, respecting each other’s individuality.

It’s interesting that in the past two years, living in Christchurch, we have all been through multiple devastating and deadly earthquakes.  As neighbours, we all put aside our differences, and helped each other.  The increased bond between neighbours is one good thing that came from the devastation.  I suspect something similar is happening today in the areas badly affected by hurricane Sandy.

Peace between neighbours reigned for us in Christchurch, and was a very good thing.  More important than arguments was making sure each other had the basic provisions of food, water and shelter.  Maybe it’s a simple way of looking at it, but I believe that simple is often best.  Talking and listening is often best.  It by far beats the need to kill and destroy.

That’s why I have taken part in today’s BlogBlast4Peace.  All of the bloggers taking part in this event believe that if words are powerful….this matters. The wider we spread this message, each in our own way, the more people will agree that the right thing to do is to lay down arms and live at peace.

I encourage you to read some of the hundreds of other blog posts on this subject today.  See the official site at BlogBlast4Peace for more details.

Make a choice, and take a stand for peace, as I have done, and speak out.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

- Bishop Desmond Tutu
Nobel Prize for Peace 1984

“Never doubt that a handful of committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

 - Margaret Mead

Some Very Important Credits

My Peace Globes (used here and on my Facebook page) were kindly created for me by my friend, Michelle Frost.  Check out Michelle’s blog to see what she is saying about peace today at Crows Feet.

Artwork and Prose from Alison Pearce  are both used with her permission.  Alison produces some excellent work, which can be seen at Art That Speaks by Alison Pearce.  Her site is well worth a visit.  Thank you for your co-operation Alison.

International Day of Peace

“A mind at peace, a mind centered and not focused on harming others, is stronger than any physical force in the universe.”

~ Wayne Dyer

Today (Friday) is the International Day of Peace, recognised each year on 21 September.  On this day the United Nations invites all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities during the Day, and to otherwise commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace.

I admit that I am less interested in politics in general, and more interested in the recovery and sustainability of people’s mental health, but I have recognised that something that contributes or takes away from my mental health, is when I am disturbed by things I am passionate about.  Peace is one for those things for me.  And I am convinced that a lack of peace causes great harm to the mental health of so many.

The Secretary-General of The United Nations, Ban Ki-moon says:

“On the International Day of Peace, the United Nations calls for a complete cessation of hostilities around the world.

We also ask people everywhere to observe a minute of silence, at noon local time, to honour the victims – those who have lost their lives, and those who survived but must now cope with trauma and pain.

The theme of this year’s observance is “Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future”.

Armed conflicts attack the very pillars of sustainable development.

Natural resources must be used for the benefit of society, not to finance wars.

Children should be in school, not recruited into armies.

National budgets should focus on building human capacity, not deadly weapons.

On the International Day of Peace, I call on combatants around the world to find peaceful solutions to their conflicts.

Let us all work together for a safe, just and prosperous future for all.” (1.)

It is the victims of war, and they can be defined in many ways, are the ones I feel most concerned about because they are usually the innocent ones, the one’s who haven’t chosen war, but get stuck in its path.  They are the ones who face years of trauma and pain.  I accept that I have never been in a war zone, and neither do I want to be, but I have been in a war zone in my head (and my body in relation to my eating disorder and self harm).  I know from that how much damage war does and I believe strongly that there has to be another way to solve conflict.

“I am fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.”

 - George McGovern

And it’s not just men.  Only a few weeks ago my country mourned the death of our first woman soldier in killed in combat.  Her death was no worse than the death of the two men who died with her, but it somehow hit home to me, particularly when I watched the footage of the all-female pall-bearer party carry her coffin off the plane that brought the bodies home.

I have complete respect for those who serve their countries in war, but I have no respect for the leaders who craft the wars.  Those who send soldiers to war and create conflicts where innocent people are killed.  There simply has to be another way.

Because of my interest in mental health I keep asking the question, what must war do to the mental health of those involved?  We only need to consider for a moment the statistics of suicide and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst soldiers, but we have little knowledge of the impact on civilians.  It must simply be enormous, and I don’t believe that this impact on either soldiers or civilians is acceptable.

Image credit: Michelle Frost
Blog Blast for Peace

I am just one person, many miles from the conflicts that are taking place at the moment.  I could say, what can I do?  I can’t change anything.  But I strongly believe that I can make a difference simply by raising the issue,  recognising the event today, and hoping for peace.  It’s not easy to change our world, but that is no excuse not to try.  I am going to continue to write about this, and as I have said before, have committed to the Blog Blast 4 Peace on 4 November.  Maybe it’s not exactly what my blog is usually about, but it is something that I feel strongly about because it has an effect on my life (and yours).

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“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

 - Edmund Burke
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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 - Margaret Mead

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