By Jessica Kirby —
So, what is peace? I ask him, brushing the hair away from his forehead as we lay on his bed, spooning, his back to me. What does peace look like?
Quiet, he says. Quiet and no fighting.
What about fear? I ask. Some people say peace is the absence of fear and worry.
I guess so. As long as you’re quiet at the same time.
Is that important? I ask. That you be quiet to be peaceful?
It means sitting quietly and calmly with nothing in your head.
Do you feel peaceful most of the time or just sometimes?
Mostly I am not peaceful, he says.
Well, I’m pretty active, you know. I’m always running.
Me too, I say. But when I run, I feel very much at peace.
How is that possible? he says, rolling over to look me in the eye, like he thinks I’m up to something. You can’t be calm when you’re flailing your body around.
Well, for one thing, I don’t flail when I run. I just run. And, I am very much at peace because my mind is empty of worry. I am quiet in my thoughts and feel no stress.
Aren’t you worried an animal will jump out an eat you? That must disrupt your peace.
Not at all, I say. That is why I bring the dog.
What if a cougar ate the dog? Would you be at peace then?
No, I say, imagining that horror for a brief moment. I certainly wouldn’t be.
We are quiet for a moment, both, I think, imagining the horror.
Then I ask him: You know about the International Day of Peace? That it falls on your birthday?
He grins at this last part, as though the United Nations did it just for him and he owes them the awe of this moment.
Why do you think the International Day of Peace is important? I ask.
Because of my birthday? he asks, then giggles. Because it’s a reason to talk about peace. That’s my real answer.
Yea, I say, that is a good reason. It is also a chance for the whole world to think about ways to be present and not so worried about everything. A chance for the UN to spend every September 21 talking about how to keep people safe and the world calm.
What’s the UN?
Oh, right. It’s a group of people representing almost every country in the world. They get together regularly to talk about things that affect the whole world like whether we have enough clean water or access to food, what rights children have, and how to handle it when people aren’t treated nicely by their own governments.
And peace? he offers. They also deal with peace?
Correct, I say. Or, they try to.
What does that mean?
That means that they try to deal with peace, but sometimes the issues are too big or so much has happened to fuel a fight and so people can’t agree on how to make peace.
He says nothing.
Not only that, I continue, but there are five original UN members who can cancel out a vote whenever they like.
How is that peaceful?
It isn’t, really.
Well, if I were mayor, I would make those five countries give up the right to cancel other people’s votes.
You would make a great mayor, then.
We are quiet for a few minutes and then:
I think peace is when you aren’t afraid, he says, rubbing his eyes.
The absence of fear?
Yea, I guess so. But I guess that’s impossible because there is always something that could scare you.
Like spiders or fire or leaving your book on the bus and never finding it again.
Well, what if you could remain peaceful in those situations?
Because you would be sad, not peaceful, he says, yawning. You can’t be calm and still when you feel like that.
The Buddha says you can. He said the whole experience of living was about finding a way to be calm and compassionate—peaceful—no matter what is happening around you.
He raises up on one elbow, suddenly more awake, because he’s serious now. So you’re never mad? I thought being mad is okay …
Of course it is, and of course you still get mad. But the anger just comes and you notice it, and move on.
He flops over onto his back, laughing. That’s ridiculous, he says.
It is? Or is it just unusual and hard to imagine?
It’s ridiculous, he says, yawning again.
Because even if you kept your mind calm, the librarian would lose her pickle when she found out you lost the book and then POOF! your peace would be gone.
Maybe she reads about peace when she’s not serving customers and she would just be at peace with the lost book.
Maybe then she would want to come to my birthday.
Who? The librarian?
Sure, Mom, he says, his eyes drifting a little closer to closed. Anyone who can be that calm can come to my birthday.
Good night, Mr. Mayor, I say, kissing his forehead. Peaceful dreams.