There is no such thing as a lasting peace, a final resting place for the lion and the lamb. We yearn for the completion of our task, the fulfillment of our striving, the consummation of our journey. And, in so doing we sow the seeds of our defeat. In believing that the purpose of a peace movement lies in its outcome, we assure failure.
The work of peacemaking will never be done—that is the curse and the blessing of being human. A curse in so far as there is no utopian culmination of our labors, and a blessing in so far as there shall always be meaningful work. The task of the peacemaker is like that of Sisyphus, the human that the gods condemned to a life of shoving a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back down in an endless cycle. How could Sisyphus endure such a fate? I’ve asked my students this, and their answers are revealing.
Some students suppose that there is always hope: a hope that the gods would relent, that tranquility would finally come to Sisyphus. A particularly creative student suggested that the rolling of the boulder would erode the hill so that eventually the labor of Sisyphus would be complete. But the most compelling answer came from those students who understood that a sense of futility comes only if Sisyphus believes that he will see the fruit of his labors.
Maybe Sisyphus will never recover the graces of the gods, maybe the hill will never be worn down. But if he—if we—can authentically and deeply engage in our labors, if we roll the boulder of peace because it is what we are called to do, if the measure of our work is its capacity to shape who we are, then we can go on pushing. And if in the course of our labors the hill of hate is eroded, that will be a beautiful thing, a very beautiful thing.
But as much as we imagine that peacemaking will overthrow warmongering, as much as we hope to live at a pivot point in human history, as much as we dream of a glorious conversion of society, we must understand that while epiphanies may change souls, they rarely change the world. To understand what the world needs of us, we must look into the eyes of the frightened soldier and the terrified child. But to sustain our work, we must look inside of ourselves.
There is where we shall find the understanding that peacemaking is self-making. That the endless labor of life is not about changing the world but creating ourselves.
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