I was walking down a street that cuts through Portland State University and I came upon three poles sticking in the ground. They looked old but yet were novel to me. I’ve been down this block many times and I’ve never seen them. The plaque showed it was a few years old. Hmmm… I missed a detail all this time… amazing.
On the poles is a phrase that reads “may peace prevail over the Earth” in a variety of languages (including sign language). However, as I walked away toward another destination, my mind ‘misremembered’ (a Bushism) with the word ‘reign’ instead of ‘prevail’. As I walked I wondered if Peace could reign. Not in the sense if whether or not ‘peace’ could truly take place upon this Earth, but if it could actually ‘reign’. I am speaking here of the nature of the term ‘reign’.
Main Entry: 1reign
Etymology: Middle English regne, from Anglo-French, from Latin regnum, from reg-, rex king — more at royal
Date: 13th century
1 a : royal authority : sovereignty <under the reign of the Stuart kings> b : the dominion, sway, or influence of one resembling a monarch <the reign of the Puritan ministers>
2 : the time during which one (as a sovereign) reigns
There is, at least to my understanding, a martial element to this term. And I wondered about whether ‘peace’, generally understood to be with absence of martial energy, could reign when the actions of such had a martial flavor to it.
However I might also note that I do not define Peace as being without war. It will no doubt infuriate some to read this, much less to truly and fairly consider, but I find that while it is possible to have an unjust war and a just war, it is also possible to have an unjust ‘peace’. Yet in these instances we might do away with the terms ‘war’ and ‘peace’ to use instead other terms that might better suit the circumstance, such as attacks, killings, mass murders, defense, crusades, causes, bondage, liberations, revolutions, and so forth.
I came to the conclusion, then, that Peace does not, nor cannot, Reign. But then I wondered what is it that Peace does? I threw around a few terms in my mind, simple little phrases, and I checked these against my understanding of peace by which I also hold Dr Martin Luther King’s to be a short and succinct definition.
True Peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
While this has been an important quote for me, a bead upon my heart’s rosary, my understanding of this statement contains within it what is inscribed upon the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.
In 2007 the U.S. Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award it can give to a civilian, to the Dalai Lama for work in peace. On the back of the medal was the following inscription:
World peace must be developed from inner peace. Peace is not the absence of violence. Peace is the manifestation of human compassion
In my understanding of what ‘peace’ is there is this shared respect/compassion/justice for each other. I find that it is becomes harder and harder for me to warrant the activities of capitalism gone rampant with such a view of peace.
When I came back by the poles and re-read them I saw that I it was ‘prevail’ and not ‘reign’.
Main Entry: pre·vail
Function: intransitive verb
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin praevalēre, from prae- pre- + valēre to be strong — more at wield
Date: 15th century
1 : to gain ascendancy through strength or superiority : triumph
2 : to be or become effective or effectual
3 : to use persuasion successfully <prevailed on him to sing>
4 : to be frequent : predominate <the west winds that prevail in the mountains>
5 : to be or continue in use or fashion : persist <a custom that still prevails>
Again there is this martial element to it, though not as strongly as with the word ‘reign’. Yet here I have a problem. Within this definition is the notion that peace is superior to not-peace (let us assume it was peace activists who were against the war going on in this time), in other words, peace is superior to war. Superior how? One might (and some do) argue that peace is superior morally to war. On this point I disagree for we can have an unjust peace, to speak in plain language (often conflicted in preciseness). While there are those who will not grant me an atom’s consideration that a war might be justified, I ask them if they can conceive of a peace that is unjust. If they claim not to then I ask them to kindly turn in their progressive cards and stay home. Its a dangerous world out there and they might get hurt (and to stay away from boiling pans of water and electrical outlets).
As I walked in the late afternoon I threw some words out into the winter wind to see if they matched what peace was/is. None fit. All seemed to ‘do’ something. Does peace do anything?
This was not the only thing on my thoughts, however. I’ve met the most intriguing person and have had a couple of marathon coffee sessions. I’ve been completely bowled over by not only her form, her shape, her eyes, her smile, and her loud raucous laugh, her physical presence disrupts me like any magnetic field on an electrical device, and her mind is one that compliments my own with breadth, variety, depth, insight, and acuity, and her heart is one of purpose and meaning and compassion, and her openness and views and… I could go on forever it seems. What I have a growing felt sense of is that I can unleash myself… that is… to un-tame my self, my thoughts, my feelings. For while there is much softness there within such is a stone column, a pillar of strength. I sense a bending ability that is also very strong. Not unlike a tree. And while it may take time to reach such a level of trust and intimacy, considering my past, there is hope that this blend of the soft and the strong will allow me to exert myself upon her without breaking her nor in breaking me. And in doing so, with this trust, I might also find my own ability to bend and stand resolute, not having to be one or the other depending upon the person I happen to be with at the moment.
And in this thought I smile as I walk down the street. I throw out smiles into the wind, hoping that one finds its way to her wherever she may be, and a thought comes to my mind. Pregnant.
Not pregnant as in with child. Pregnant as in with possibility.
Main Entry: preg·nant
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin praegnant-, praegnans carrying a fetus, alteration of praegnas, from prae- pre- + -gnas (akin to gignere to give birth to) — more at kin
Date: 14th century
1 archaic : cogent
2 : abounding in fancy, wit, or resourcefulness : inventive <all this has been said…by great and pregnant artists — Times Literary Supplement>
3 : rich in significance or implication : meaningful, profound <the pregnant phrases of the Bible — Edmund Wilson> <a pregnant pause>
4 : containing a developing embryo, fetus, or unborn offspring within the body : gravid
5 : having possibilities of development or consequence : involving important issues : momentous <draw inspiration from the heroic achievements of that pregnant age — Kemp Malone>
6 obsolete : inclined, disposed <your own most pregnant and vouchsafed ear — Shakespeare>
7 : full, teeming
— preg·nant·ly adverb
Yes… that is it. My meeting her, my feelings about this exciting phase of novelty, of discovery, of possibility, of curiosity, of what dreams might be/come-to-be/become (as well as the old fears of what was and what may be again), of that odd tightrope the heart, covered with scars and bleeding with hope, walks with one side a pit of vipers and thorns from hurts of the past, and the other side a soft bed of velvet and cushions, there is in all of this a sense of the definition of the present backed by a glow of the future and shadowed by a history of the past. This time, between us, is pregnant. It is a pregnancy of the emotions, of the heart.
My thoughts went to another line concerning this word, imagining a hypothetical couple in a hospital, the mother is pregnant and giving birth, and I was feeling this sense of the word. The child is not envisioned to ever become a meth addict, or a rapist, or maimed in an auto accident, or any number of other things that would be horrible to think of. No, the child is envisioned to be a gifted one and no doubt the parents can imagine not only future dance recitals, piano lessons, football games, pony rides, halloween costumes, and so on as well as perhaps the immensity of the responsibility of their title as parents settling upon their shoulders, to keep at bay the darker thoughts of before from occurring. There is the physical pregnancy as well as the deeply emotional one that the parents pass through.
This is not a passive state. I may now write, interchangeably, of peace, pregnancy of child, or pregnancy in the heart. It isn’t passive. It is not a state that can merely be defined as opposed to the dynamic of war. War is not to be defined as merely dynamic, therefore we ought not define peace as a-dynamic, that is, not-dynamic. There is certainly nothing at all passive in my pregnant state of heart/mind today. There is certainly nothing passive in a society that is just and not at war. There is certainly nothing passive with parents as they share their hopes and dreams for a wonderful life with that child.
But it doesn’t just happen. It does not prevail. It does not reign. Peace, or love, does not prevail. It is a romantic notion to think so. It is deeply imbedded in our scripts of ourselves, of our roles, of what is expected of each other. Yet loving someone enough doesn’t change them from meth, doesn’t keep them safe while they are overseas in a war, doesn’t bridge gaps with someone trying to return home from combat in their own mind and heart. For what is love? To give of one’s self to another? To give of one’s self to another above one’s concern for self? What is it within this thing called ‘love’ that compels us to believe that if only we had enough of it residing within our breasts that mountains will move, that rivers will be crossed, that we shall overcome and triumph obstacles before us, that wrongs will be righted, that peace will reign?
I can find nothing to support this notion. Instead I find that love can make a person do the foolish/foolhardy/brave/inspiring. Love can propel us out of our comfort zones, out of the well worn paths through the woods of our hearts and into the wild forests of pregnant potential… of possibility. Yes, there are beasts out there, but oh what sights there are as well. It isn’t love that pushes the step, but courage. But it isn’t courage that guides… it is love.
Oh how I embrace this pregnancy, this potential, this powerful future now, this… peace.