“The house of peace can only be built by those who want to live under its roof.”
I heard that line spoken this evening by a mayor of a relatively small town in Germany. He, along with a delegation from his city, was in my town on a visit of friendship. Our towns are sister cities and have been since the summer of 2001. Since then, my city has weathered September 11 and a deadly and rare F5 tornado that nearly destroyed our county seat. We have visited them and shared our bounty with them as well. I was part of a choir from the local junior college who traveled to their city and spent three wonderful days with them as part of a 14-day singing tour of Bavaria and Austria. Their generosity and openness was beyond my ability to fully describe. They opened their homes to us and welcomed us with open hearts. We met as strangers and parted (hesitantly, I might add) as friends. Many of us continue to correspond with people we met there. Our cities have sent groups to visit each other quite often and we will continue to do so for many more years.
When I saw first greeted the mayor this evening, he saw me coming 20 feet away and welcomed me with a huge smile and a warm hug, even though we barely speak each others’ languages and we hadn’t seen each other in nearly a year. I do not know the mayor well but I was every bit as glad to see him as he was to see me. Our German friends have shown us amazing generosity in ways that none of us could have ever expected and we will never be able to fully repay the gifts of friendship they have given us freely.
But we don’t have to. That’s what friendship really is all about. You give what you have to your friends and it’s not tallied in a ledger. There are no accounts kept. You give because that is what friends do.
I wonder sometimes about us Americans. I wonder if we even remember what it’s like to be friends with each other. I read an account the other day about a fellow who lives in Hollywood who is also a conservative. I don’t know the guy but I seriously doubt that he eats babies and pushes old folks in front of oncoming buses. He’s not out there trying to make sure that our school children eat dog food instead of nutritious lunches. He wants clean air, prosperity and good healthy for everybody, and a strong and progressive country to hand to his kids. Basically, he wants what we all want.
What struck me about the article was a bit he wrote about how he’s lost friends because he mildly expressed some political view or another. I can’t imagine how that must have made him feel, to have someone neatly cut him out of their life simply because his politics didn’t mimic theirs.
I’ve seen this happen a lot more, read a lot of accounts of friendships shattered beyond repair over what basically amounts to nothing. We’ve somehow managed to turn the greatest commandment of “love they neighbor as thyself” completely on its ear. We’ve internalized petty politics until any difference of opinion is taken as a mortal insult or sign of mental instability. That makes me angry. Today’s mantra that all politics is personal is, quite honestly, bunk. It’s perpetuated by people who have nothing more than their political identities or worse, by people who stand to profit handsomely from the discord it sows. After all, folks are a lot more likely to plunk down their cash if they believe they’re locked in mortal struggle against a pernicious evil.
Let me tell you something, folks. A man who wants to saw off your heard and show the execution on the internet meets the definition of pernicious evil. Someone who stands at the rail and smiles as tens of thousands of people are murdered at his insistence gets to wear the pernicious evil badge. Someone who thinks the last two sentences were so egregious that they would throw me out of their house, never to be invited back, is incredibly silly and more than a little naive, but not even remotely close to evil. I can’t quite believe it’s necessary for me to say that, but it appears to be a lot less self-evident than it used to be.
The point the mayor made in his speech was a simple one: friendship is not an accident. It takes work to build and it’s only going to be built by people who want to build it. That’s something else that seems obvious, but maybe it needs to be said a bit more also. We live in a hard world, full of hard people for whom acts of actual spine-chilling evil is as natural as breathing. Those people are far from the majority, but their influence makes it seem as if there are more of them than there are. They are only going to be beaten back into the shadows by folks like you and me, the normal everyday folks who find ways every day to build lasting friendships even though we never agree perfectly with our friends. Each division we allow between us, each petty difference that we allow the selfish and foolish to build into impenetrable walls, weakens us. Each lost friendship reduces our ability to band together to build that “house of peace” under whose roof most of us very much want to live.
We needn’t let those friendships be lost. We shouldn’t let the differences explode into bloodfeuds. We need to grab those rabble-rousers by the scruffs of their necks and shove them as far from us as we possibly can because we know that they’re not helping us. They are not our friends. We should remember where the real evil is and turn our energies against banishing it from the face of the world with the help of our friends. We’re not going to build that House of Peace until we decide that we want it. Turning our faces toward each other and away from the folks who live to spread hate is a great start.
Category: The Good Old US of A