Peace Camp, family and fortune

The 'kid' flanked by two friends

Today my daughter, Anevay, returned from a week at Peace Camp, a program led by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.  She learned more than I might have imagined about free trade and the current status of our drinking water around the world (a precursor, as we all know, to later conversations about present and future land and water wars).  In a kid’s art workshop, Anevay learning about the practice of making a mandala out of sand only to blow it away, and was guided by camp counselors to make her own (a great lesson in impermanence, I might add, as she accidentally left it behind at the camp and let its loss roll right off).  Anevay also listened to an ex-soldier who, after serving in the Iraqi war, was jailed for seven years over his objections to war and his ultimate refusal to ever fight again.

Although I am agnostic, I consider it an honor for my daughter to have been able to attend this event for the second year in a row with my stepfather, ‘A’, an amazing man who has committed himself to God and social justice.  Within his denomination he is known as a “welcoming and affirming” pastor, which means that he is an advocate for gay and lesbian marriage.  The man is a pillar of strength and decency, and is one of the few people I know who I have no qualms letting take to camp for a solid week (perhaps the only people, as I’ve never let anyone else take her).

Over the course of the week ‘A’ delivered a workshop on how to integrate restorative (justice) principals in daily life and, while my daughter spent her mornings immersed in the kid’s program, he attended lectures by people such as the remarkable Kim Phúc (known to many as the ‘Girl in the Photograph’, who, at the age of nine, was badly burned a napalm bomb dropped by a pilot onto the villagers of South Vietnamese villagers during the Vietnam war.)  ’A’ told me over the phone about how moving it was to hear Kim Phúc speak about how she had forgiven the pilot who bombed her village.  Yet all I could do was think about the picture associated with the bombing and wonder what it would be like to experience such horrors.

This haunting photo of Kim Phúc was taken by AP photographer Nick Út

Anevay is nearly ten.  The thought of her ever being a victim of war is incomprehensible, and yet, in this uncertain world and as a slightly (this is an understatement) overprotective mother, it is something that I think about nearly daily.  I’ve been known to walk to the subway and- even before my morning caffeine- start bawling over the terrible things I imagine could potentially grasp hold me and my daughter.  I’ve been positively paralyzed by thoughts of the two of us being separated.  Don’t even get me started about where my brain takes me regarding airplane travel (let’s just say I never had a fear of flying prior to giving birth to my kid).  Worse, as a writer, my imagination often gets the better of me, committing painful yet cathartic stories to paper faster that you might be able to say, “Give that crazy lady a valium”.

Will my sweet girl be safe, I’ve wondered for nearly ten years?  Please, please, if anyone is listening, keep her safe (remember, I said agnostic, not atheist- I keep the possibility of God open, especially in moments of fear and sadness).  For most of my child’s life, this has been my most fixed internal mantra. The unknown has kept me up at night and awake at dawn, fretting over who-knows-what.  It drove me to keep my daughter in as much of a bubble as possible.  I played it safe largely by working a joyless job to make enough money to put (organic!) food into her mouth and be given health insurance (which in turn was needed to administer the proper immunizations and pump her full of asthma medications by her kind Polish doctor, but more on this at a later date).

I assure you that living in a bubble is not a peaceful way to live and most assuredly should not even be considered a proper survivalist protocol.  Besides, it’s an irrational way to live: Fear might keep a deer a few leaps ahead of a wolf’s jaws, but in this day of age, it doesn’t really do anything besides make a person leery of neighbors and be scared of his or her own shadow.  Being skittish doesn’t mean a deer is actively coming up with solutions for how to change its situation.  In fact, it was largely within a fixed position such as this that I imagined travel with a child would be impossible.  The world, I believed, was too dangerous a place not to play it safe by looking out for danger in order to keep one step ahead of tragedy.

Miserable and scared, I’ve wanted change to happen for so many years, but never could make it happen.  Someday, I thought, I’ll make just a little more money and will save enough to travel with my kid (something I desperately wanted yet couldn’t quite yet really fathom).  Eventually I’ll be able to quit working 70 hour work weeks so that I can concentrate on the things that make us truly happy.

Well, I think I learned the hard way that being stagnant is the fastest way to never escape the swamp.  Having a dream and then acting on it in a radical way is the only way to make a change.  This is partially what made me decide to plan a trip around the world with my kid.

Today, hearing Anevay excitedly talk about all the amazing things she learned at Peace Camp made me realize something: although she’s scared of wasps, she’s not terrified of someone dropping a bomb, and she’s not overly worried that something terrible will happen to us.  She trusts that things will be OK because she has no reason not to be trusting and because she is the first person to listen to another person’s viewpoint and practice the warm art of empathy.  I thought of a few line’s from Sun Tsu’s “Art of War”:

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.  If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.  If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve neither known myself nor my enemy.  I’ve been intuitive without being empathetic, meaning that while I’ve always sensed danger, I’ve never fully grasped being thankful for what it means to live in the moment, to be thankful for health as we have it, and to let things go when they no longer matter.  I don’t know the first thing about the workings of Kim Phúc’s mind, but I venture to guess that she’s not spending each and every day scared of her own shadow.  She’s forgiven the man who once hurt her.  I would like to think that to do this, she has had to place herself in his shoes and consider his own guilt and circumstances.

Annie Bayin’s amazing portrait, “Kim Phuc and Thomas, 1995″

My daughter, in one week of camp, learned so much about the world.  Her ability to see the world for what it is, and not for the construction I’ve believed it to be, is remarkable.  I look forward to hearing more about her thoughts on what she learned at camp.  More than ever, I’m convinced that shedding my fears of the world so that I may take my daughter on a trip around it is crucial in raising her to be a true global citizen.  Again, I’m so thankful to my stepdad for taking my kid to camp.  Experiences such as this enrich her life, and, as I’m coming to realize, also enrich mine.

Like Sun Tsu, I’m preparing to know myself as well as my enemies so that I don’t have to suffer a single loss.  I suppose peace isn’t necessarily about avoiding conflict, but about resolving them with understanding.  Although I don’t believe I have any human enemies, I certainly have a few mental ones.  For now on, I’m prepared to stand right besides them.  It’s time to burst the damn bubble and start living. 

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