Seeds of Peace: Building a Sensible Tradition

“It seemed funny that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”

– Ponyboy referencing Cherry in The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite

– Juliet, proclaiming to Romeo the magnificent and replenishing nature of her love

There’s a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
Somehow,
Some day, Somewhere!

 – Maria singing in West Side Story (Steven Sondheim lyrics)

Seeds 2In 1993, journalist John Wallach challenged several leaders of Middle East nations to make a gesture of goodwill by providing funds for select high school students to attend a camp every summer in rural Maine. Of the thousands who apply each year, only100 are selected to represent their countries. Aptly named Seeds of Peace, the camp’s goal has been to foster understanding, compassion, and a heightened sense of humanity among the children of nations who have rarely known peace. For over twenty years now, young men and women from Israel, Palestine, Iraq, and other war-torn nations have come together in an attempt to sow those seeds, despite the apparently endless conflict in the region.

Beyond the open exchange of cultural values and customs, these students discuss many of the complex political and ideological issues that plague the region. In their efforts to reach understanding and acceptance, they must all come to embrace a very basic philosophy: violence begets violence, and to subscribe to the ancient code of an eye-for-and-eye is to ensure the continuance of hatred and killing. This is the very essence of Christianity (though God only knows how many Christians really get it), but it does not mean that to adopt such a code of living makes one a non-Jew or non-Muslim. It simply makes a person more forgiving, and more humane. Still, the real test for all will come when they return to the realities of their homelands.

Seeds

Regarding the parents who sanctioned the mission and encouraged their children, I find it heartening to know there are those who actively seek peace. Yet I’m afraid they represent a minority, perhaps smaller in number than those who actively promote hatred and violence. My guess is that too many Middle Easterners resign themselves to the notion that such conflict is inevitable. It has always been and always will be. Yet while these “realists” may deflect open discussion of the issues, they tacitly espouse the belief that it is better to accept the reality of life than to hold up false hopes. Our children should never let their guards down.

But humor me for a minute, as we become invisible onlookers at the Seeds of Peace campground and witness a burgeoning love affair between 16 year olds Netanya from Israel and Miraj from Palestine. This is the kind of love that only youthful hearts can realize, the kind that overwhelms the soul and the body with ineffable and inexorable power. Yet our lovers understand that, because the mission of the camp is of a different nature, they must hide their feelings. And they do so, but for a brief tryst one night by the lake under the moon over Maine where, in solemn embrace, they vow to find each other after they have returned to their war-torn homes.

Yet this drama is not to go the way of the Capulets and the Montagues, or the Sharks and the Jets, or the Socs and the Greasers. No sacrificing here of the tender heart for the inured. Rather, less than a year later, out from the rubble of Gaza, we see Netanya and Miraj emerge to find each other, and to walk hand in hand across the border. And in spite of the world, they will make love, and they will marry, and they will have a child.

What of this child? Our realists, if forced to analyze, might see it as the biological result of impetuous teenagers. If pushed further, they might venture that the child will assume no identity through faith and, at best, become just another of the millions of half-breed drifters. At worst, the child will grow to become so internally conflicted in its very heart of hearts that it will find no peace.

I would prefer to believe that this is a child conceived in love, and thereby has the makings of a beautiful soul. Perhaps it is bound to become a fine carpenter, or philosopher, or poet to inspire us; perhaps even a great leader of two nations. Or at the very least, our child is one small example of the power of Love over hate.

Please click on the following link to hear a song on this topic I recorded at Green Mountain Studio in Colorado Springs: Love Shines