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Is peace even possible? Diane's story

Returning to my table after dancing on my impromptu dance floor, an older woman sitting alone asked me where I was from. “Canada,” I replied. (I take note of greetings as I travel around the world. “Como esta (how are you)?” would be the usual Mexican greeting, but here everyone’s first question to me is where I’m from. Perhaps it’s because so many tourists visit Puerto Angel, Mexico, I’m so pale, or everyone can recognise each other in the small town.)

The woman responded, “I’m from Ottawa.” Curious to know more, I asked if I could join her. For the second time today I was blessed with an English speaker to talk with. As we got to know each other, I discovered she had lived here for 10 years. “Well,” she confessed, “9 and a half, I’m exaggerating. You’ll find that a lot here.” She found her pension went further in Mexico than in Canada, and the weather was much better, too.

Diana has led an interesting life. Her father’s work enabled her to live all over Canada — in  the far north, the Maritimes, and out west. Without knowing my interest in peace, she told me she moved to San Francisco in the 1970’s, and was so unaware of prejudice that it surprised her when she saw it in others (whether against blacks, whites, or indigenous people). Her stories included numerous examples of prejudice, sexism, and cruelty. In Mexico, she did get bored, hit on, and otherwise put upon, but as we spoke I learned how well she could fend for herself.

When I told her about my peace mission and asked her what peace meant to her, she said “I don’t believe peace is possible.” Clarifying whether she meant peace in the sense of the opposite of war, she asked, “Isn’t that the definition of peace?” I told her from years of experience talking to people around the world, it was surprising how individually people define peace. There are large contextual differences; people from conflict countries identify it as justice and political peace, but beyond that, the answers are diverse. With that explanation, she expounded further. “No, I don’t think peace is possible. I remember a cartoon of two angels looking down at war on earth. Not understanding how people could kill each other, one angel asked the other, ‘What are they doing?’ ‘You won’t believe it,’ the other angel answered. ‘They’re fighting over which God is most peaceful.’”

Unfortunately, that rings true. I asked Diane if she was following current news; there have been many religious attacks lately, with ISIS and extremists killing civilians in the Middle East and Europe, and reprisal killings of Muslims, even in Canada. It seems to me that we fight most over creed and greed. But that peace is impossible? What a despairing thought! Concurring that I could understood why she felt that way, I asked how Diane dealt with it. “I try to live my own life and not think about it,” she answered. “I avoid the news; that helps. It’s hard even on a personal level. I’ve been robbed, molested, abused, and it’s difficult to face the attacker and forgive.”

“That’s so true,” I agreed. “I even struggle with impersonal events, like a delayed flight, let alone injustice, reconciliation and forgiveness,” I confessed. I could relate to the more personal acts of forgiveness as well; it took me years of struggle to forgive someone who hurt me deeply.

“Sometimes reconciliation and forgiveness are impossible,” Diane continued. “I recently moved to avoid seeing someone I had a conflict with. He used to look at me with hatred. He abused me, not me him, so why does he hate me?”

“To abuse you in the first place is a type of hate. Now you remind him of his guilt, and he hates that too,” I postulated.

“I actually met two murderers without knowing it,” Diane said. As she shared more details, it seemed like the stories were from years ago in another country. Diane also said there was a drug-related murder last year on the beach that I swam at this morning. The ugly underbelly of Mexican drug wars suddenly felt a whole lot closer.  Ian, the young man I met this morning, said peace was more than having no gun to his head. I suspect he’s come a lot closer to that possibility than I could ever imagine.

As I left the restaurant and the difficult conversation, I prayed that God would keep Mexicans safe from dangerous people, from such poverty that they commit crimes, and from the despair that leads unaccompanied minors and families to risk crossing the border hiding on trains or trekking through deserts. God, please make Americans and Canadians more generous to people who are fleeing what we would never want for our children.

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