November 11, 1918, Armistice Day the end of the Great War, then said to be the “war to end all wars.” Not so, unfortunately, despite the millions killed in that conflict. For years afterwards, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, two minutes of silence honored the fallen. Other wars, however, followed. Now, nearly a hundred years later war remains a way of life in many parts of the world, including our own country.
In 1954 Armistice Day became Veterans Day, thanks to a shoe store owner in Emporia, Kansas, named Al King, who believed all veterans of all wars should be so honored. Congress and President Eisenhower rightly agreed.
This day, from its very beginning, was also meant to be a plea and prayer for world peace, a state of being that has eluded earth forever. Our dreams and our words may wish otherwise but peace among us lies far beyond our home’s horizons.
From a less global perspective, over the years – first as a priest and later as a marriage and family therapist – I have learned something about personal peace and peace in relationships and families. The lessons are not complicated, though quite difficult to practice – and, believe me, they do require practicing.
What I have learned are two insights about the nature of peace and what it requires:
First, true peace is something one gives to self and, once known, cannot be given away. Lost? Compromised? Shattered? Of course; on this side of time and in our humanness peace is very, very fragile. But attaining peace can only be done within an honest, maturing self and, let me say it, nation. True peace cannot be bought, imposed or manufactured. It is ultimately found within, and its name is acceptance.
Second, and quite logically, one cannot know peace without learning to live with differences. The opposite of peace is war, whether personal or global – which is essentially about differences. Living with differences, however, except those that endanger the well-being of self, others and our world, means more, much more, than mere tolerance; it requires acceptance, if not yet-to-be-grown-to understanding, and respect.
Both insights offer far more than their words allow, as well as a challenge to any individual – or nation – seriously seeking peace. The core of each insight is the fact that one can only change self and not another. Nothing defines the work of seeking peace more clearly than that.
The elusiveness and fragility of peace make it as priceless as any soul, be it a person’s or a nation’s. Peace becomes even more priceless when it is shared.
On this day we need to thank our military – those fallen and who have served – and all at risk who, paradoxically, wage war for peace.