Friday, September 26, 2014

Wage Peace: Part 1

The other morning, I was tired, and not just because I woke up to fight the renegade toilet at 4 something AM (because, honestly, although I'm good at remembering numbers, I'm not good at reading the display of the clock at that hour).

So I did what any woman does after being awakened too early.  I booted up the computer and checked Facebook.  And, of course, because it was the middle of the night here, the active statuses on my feed were from my friends in Korea, where it was the middle of the day.

Now, many of my friends in Korea are ex-pats, and when I first arrived there fifteen years ago, there were two types of ex-pats:  teachers, the group to which I belong, and military personnel, a group to which I certainly do not.

I had always seen my job as part of a peace-keeping process.  Teaching the lingua franca of the world, in my mind, helps to pave the way for understanding, and where there is more understanding, I have assumed, there is more peace.  I'd thought of soldiers as peace-keeping, but I'd never much thought of soldiers as dedicated to the active peace-making process, not when I saw Korean soldiers marching during reserve training at the local Korean universities, not when I heard their guns fire during monthly refreshers, not when the military aircraft, both US and Korean, practiced scrambling in the skies above the mountains and sweet potato patches, and not when I glimpsed the American soldiers, armed and strident, just beyond the fences of the local bases.

But on this other morning, when I was too tired to talk, too tired to comment, I chose to listen.  Watch.  Observe.  Appreciate.

And I noticed so many of those military men posting pictures of their children:  little boy scouts, juniors sitting atop shoulders, little girls with sparkling eyes at father-daughter dances, young ladies heading off to college.

Maybe there is more caring going on than I had previously thought.

Now caring is something most people tell you has gone downhill and by the wayside, but it hasn’t.  It can be found if you just take the time to look.  It's there in the hushed conversation between two mothers agonizing over problems with their children.  Love overflows every time my three-year-old neighbor runs out to bid his father farewell, crying, “I love you, Daddy!  Don’t walk out into traffic!”  I see it when the sari-clad grandmother on the corner walks toward Rt. 286 hand-in-hand with her teenage denim-wearing granddaughter, something that always makes me nostalgic for my own grandmother.

The caring overflows even at the mundane places like the grocery store.  As I climbed into my car in the nearest plaza last month, I looked over toward Wendy's, initially wondering if I should take a turn through their drive thru and bring my kids surprise Frosties.  But two men riveted my attention instead.  An enormous serviceman, clad in his camouflage cap, olive drab tank, and camouflage cargo pants, stood tall and confident beside a small, blue sedan with a US Marines decal adhered to the rear window.  He thunked two Wendy's bags down on the roof of his car, opened the passenger door, and then with extreme gentleness, cupped the elbow of his elderly grandfather, now frail but with every shadow of having been as strapping as his grandson now was, and eased him into the car.

The back of my nose stung, and I was glad I'd given up wearing mascara as I felt the tears coming.  More and more, the grocery store is becoming a dangerous place for me, and I cry there with great regularity because there is nothing more incredibly moving to me than simple acts of great love.  Apparently, Shop 'n' Save is a breeding ground for such activity, and when faced with it, I often feel like I am eavesdropping on a private moment of someone else's life.  I have watched a grandmother indulge her preschool grandson again and again, smiling as he scales the cart like a Discovery Channel primate.  He chatters that whole time, but she never screams, "BECAUSE," no matter how many times he has asked, "Why?"  I have smiled as I saw a husband tenderly steer his very pregnant wife throughout the store, possessively protecting her as if some rogue can of spaghetti sauce might be out to do harm and all the while sneaking glances of awe at her and her belly.  I tried not to stare at the adult daughter carefully assisting her aging mother through the produce section.  Her careful smile never wavered even after her mother squeezed all but three peaches and then decided not to buy any of them.

Driving home, I was blessed enough to run into my other neighbors, an older Jordanian couple who speak little English but abound in love.  The wife was crying about something when her husband extracted a tissue from his pocket, gently wiped her cheeks, and then tucked her small frame under his arm and tenderly led her home.  As they turned toward their door, they passed an older gentleman walking his grandson's dog while his grandson is stationed in Germany, and once again, I think about war and peace.

Too often we talk about war as the price of peace without realizing that peace has to be taken as much as it is protected.  In other words, peace is not merely developed by showing our ferocity against our "enemies."  It is equally established by those who insist on demonstrating loving gentleness toward our neighbors: choosing kindness toward strangers, taking care of the weak, and loving our families.

These are the rights our soldiers die for.  This is the home they mean to protect and the way of life they hope to establish.

And perhaps the first step to peace is recognizing that and practicing it.

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