This short story was first written in 2009 as part of my grade 12 writer’s craft final project. It is part of my Peace Anthology which has a 2009 copyright.
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As I approach the coffee shop I look at my watch. Five minutes to go before my big meeting. I take a deep breath, and brace myself to get ready to talk to a complete stranger. I think about how I will greet her, “Good day, Mrs. Smith”, “Hi Abby”, “Nice to meet you, Abby Smith”. While my head is still swirling she walks in. Tall, lanky, and with a huge smile on her face she greets me readily. “You must be Amanda,” she says.
“Yes, I assume you’re Mrs. Smith,” I say as I extend my hand.
“Call me Abby,” she says, and reaches out her hand to shake mine. “Let’s grab something to eat and sit down together,” she suggests.
Here I am, a college student in my early twenties, sitting down with the famous writer and counselor, Abby Smith. I have so many questions to ask her, but Abby just looks up at me and says, “So, where should we begin?”
I grab my pen and notebook and clear my throat. “I’m doing a school project on peace, and I was hoping to get your opinion.”
She takes a sip of her coffee, “Ask me whatever you want,” she says and sits back to listen.
“Okay, well let’s start with what peace is. I’ve heard that peace is the absence of war, but what is peace to you personally?”
“I think peace is the absence of feelings that lead to discrimination and violence” she starts. “It’s when you feel so good about yourself that you don’t have to belittle someone else or attack them either physically or emotionally. If you’re at harmony with yourself, then it makes sense that you would be able to bring that harmony into other relationships.”
“What about war?” I persist. “Surely there must be some soldiers who don’t feel totally worthless about themselves.”
“I think that what we need to do is start off by talking about peace on a much smaller scale.” She says. “So many people think about war and violence right away when they think about the absence of peace. The problem with thinking those kinds of things is that if you get too use to it, you are more apt to let other things go right through you without objecting. I think that peace starts on a much smaller scale, and it’s only once you conquer the small issues, that you are brave enough to encounter the bigger issues.”
“Okay, let’s back up then,” I say. “On a smaller scale, what kinds of things can we do to live at peace with each other?”
Abby smiles, “Let’s start with going to school. What kinds of things do you see at school that you would rather not see?”
“That’s not hard to answer,” I say. “There are always cliques, and some of the groups get us to do stuff we don’t feel is right. There’s a ton of pressure in college to fit in, even at the expense of others.”
“Ah,” Abby leans back on her chair. “Let’s discuss why these people do those things. If someone excludes another from their group, then that’s an example of the absence of peace. It’s okay to have your personality clash with someone else’s; we’re not made to enjoy every single person’s company. But that doesn’t mean we can’t befriend them or be kind to them.
“The problem is that sometimes people don’t realize how hurtful it is to not allow someone to be able to participate in a certain activity. True peace accepts everyone for who they are even if you disagree with their beliefs.
“In the second case, if one group pressures their friends to openly do things their friends know are wrong, then that is not true peace, nor is it true friendship. True peace allows others to have their beliefs without trying to force your beliefs on them.
“And finally, if students make fun of others then they are not really at harmony with themselves. It is okay to enjoy a joke, or to tease good naturedly as long as the other person knows that’s what you’re doing, but to openly attack someone has deeper roots. Quite often people make fun of the very things that scare them, so if something about the other person scares you, you should try to understand why. True peace means understanding all people, including yourself.”
“Okay, but on a larger scale,” I press again. “Is war ever acceptable?”
“This debate has been going on for ages,” Abby sighs. “It is hard to say openly whether war is ever acceptable, or whether all wars are bad. What I think needs to be taken into consideration is the reason for the fighting. If people accepted each other for who they really were there would be no need for war. If people did not try to force their religious, political, or social beliefs on others there would be no reason for violence. And finally if people understood themselves and weren’t afraid of other people then there would be no reason to have feelings of hatred. War is just another way of saying conflicts that can’t be resolved except by violence. I fail to see when, if ever, there would be no other way to change a situation.”
“What about self-defense?” I ask. “If someone is attacking your loved ones, especially your children, would it be okay to fight back?”
“This is a personal decision,” she says. “I cannot speak for everyone, and if someone doesn’t hold the same beliefs as me, I cannot force them to. From what I believe, though, there are still better ways to deal with that situation. If someone is trying to harm you, then it is best to creatively and tactfully think of a way to get out of the situation that doesn’t include violence. Usually people hurt others because of some hurt that they feel in their own lives, maybe if we could just understand that, violence would end.”
“One last question,” I say while taking the final sip of my coffee, “How is one to believe in peace, when the world is torn in the direction of violence?”
“It’s a matter of priorities,” she says. “If you believe something strongly enough then you will do whatever it takes to not back down on your views. The world does have a lot of violence, but for the most part, we can choose whether to partake of it or not. We can choose not to watch a violent movie, or to stand up for a child being bullied. It’s the small choices that we make that change the world. Anyone who sets out to change the world in a big way is probably forgetting that you must first change the little things. When the world pulls us towards hatred, we have to replace it with love. This can only happen if we are willingly to stand up for what we believe in.”
“Thank you for your time, Abby,” I say as I tuck my notebook under my arm. “I enjoyed our conversation, and I now have a lot to think about”.
As I walk out of the coffee shop, I take a moment just to savour nature. Usually I am in a rush, but this time I stop to listen to the birds singing and to watch the squirrels playing. And for once, I notice just how peaceful the small things in life can be.