As we sat in a circle on the first day, we were asked what 3 significant symbols, experiences, or words that we thought directed us to the Summer Peacebuilding Program. My mind immediately went to Adventism and my upbringing in the church as an active youth member and children’s story teller. I immediately thought of my Dad as a Christian man being man being an example to me as he led others in a loving and peaceful way within the church. Then my thoughts led to my memories and feelings of being rejected from the church. My feelings of exclusion and the pain that went with my choices that were made outside of the church realm that ran rampant until I found myself in the rave music scene. The rave scene was the antithesis of the Adventist church, but I found the rave scene to truly exemplify peace. We lived by the motto of “Peace, Love, Unity, Respect,” also known as “PLUR.” This community was what exemplified true acceptance and love in what was one of the darkest stages of my life. This community, although it often has some negative connotations, brought me out of the dark and into the light, and truly impacted who I am and with who I interact with. It taught me to accept all people, no matter how seemingly different one person is. After I pondered these major events in my life, my third thought went to social media, and how social media has been a constant mode of self-expression of my identity through these experiences. Ever since the creation of MySpace, my life has been impacted through my ability to blog and post on the message boards about my thoughts and opinions. It gave me a medium to be vulnerable and express myself when I was stuck in spaces I felt like no one cared.
Me at 19 years old with my beloved peace sign
As I sat in a circle and presented, I was excited to share these 3 very meaningful things to me and how I attributed them to how I am the way I am, and how they impacted my path and led me here to the Summer Peacebuilding Program. Right after me, a fellow participant, and new friend, Nino, shared her experience of growing up in the country of Georgia, and seeing the missiles outside of her classroom as a young girl. She remarked her fear and how she thought they were going to die in their classroom, and how her experiences growing up witnessing war brought her here to want to be a peacebuilder. I couldn’t help but feel a little, well, silly, regarding my responses. It hit me that at 28 years old, my understanding of “peace” is vastly different other people’s ideas of peace.
My friend Matt working with children in Iraq and Syria
Later in the day, we watched two videos – one focusing on young American children being asked what “peace” is, and a video asking young kids in Syria what “peace” is. The drastic differences between answers were reminiscent of my response and Nino’s response earlier in the day. The American children declared things like “hanging with the butterflies” and “love” as being peace. While the Syrian children named things like “food” and “being with family” as peace. Of course, neither of these answers are wrong, and I do not mean to shame my personal experiences and understanding. They are both right in their own reason and their own culture, but it hit me how I’ve never considered how perceptual peace really is. How peace is not this far-off, heavenly idea, but is oftentimes a very tangible and deliverable thing.