Choosing Community Over Caution
Palm Springs, CA USA
“This year my mission is to actively respond to chaos with calm. To take negative experiences and see the good.”
I live a wonderful life. I have two homes… one in beautiful sunny southwest Florida and one in warm, sunny, and equally beautiful southern California. My work took me to California a few years ago. It is very rewarding and I venture to say I have my dream job. I work as a sustainability manager for a small local government. My job entails working on many projects including with students to inspire and educate regarding the environment, health, and teaching them about what their local government does in terms of sustainability. Everything that my life is and has become is just that…it has become. It is a product of encounters, relationships, and interactions both good and bad. I am thankful for what I have and privileged to not live directly in a war zone or a place where I must witness daily physical violence. Yet, as we all know, it seems at times that exposure to some form of violence is inescapable. People ask me often how I stay positive. “I work hard at it!” I say.
I awake each morning reviewing at least three inspiring meditations and quotes. I read a list of at least ten positive thoughts, practice yoga daily when I can, and strive to reflect on who I love, what I am proud of, what I am committed to that day, and most of all what I am grateful for. Still, there are times when I have to reflect or reassess myself, and the new year gives just the right incentive for this type of self-reflection. This year my mission is to actively respond to chaos with calm. To take negative experiences and see the good. Sometimes I too am guilty of running from conflict or ignoring pain. However, in response to things some people shy away from or fear, I can happily say most of the time I handle things differently.
Every place I have lived, the people that have touched my life, the experiences I have had have influenced me and led me to value peace in every single day. My home in Florida is on a street that has seen three shootings in five years. Two of them were fatal. I bought it at 25 and lived there alone for 6 years. I experienced not only the murder of neighbors but also domestic violence, a dog fighting ring, drug dealings, prostitution and robberies in my neighborhood. Two blocks away there are million dollar homes. My family tells me “Don’t ride your bike in that neighborhood,” or “Get out of there. Don’t stay too long to check on your rental property.” I am offended. I breathe. This is my home. These are my people. This is my neighborhood. I hope for better. Yet, as I ride my bike through Newtown in Sarasota, if I am offered drugs I say, “No thanks, I have a natural high.” And smile at my neighborhood’s dealer, hoping he reflects.
When the shooting occurred I went to my neighbor’s home and joined the candlelight vigil. For me, staying out of the bad neighborhood, moving away after being burglarized, or ignoring the homeless person instead of responding by giving her a sandwich or a cup of coffee would not be peace. It would be silencing myself. Peace is something you need to practice every day, and sometimes seeking it means you are uncomfortable, unsafe, or even victimized in your home where you ‘should’ be safe. As many of us who work in building community and hope to incrementally contribute to peace in our world, I believe that without experiencing the very things we talk about “fixing,” and the people we are “helping,” we are simply talking from a high ivory tower and playing the role of weekend warrior.
Some of us go into the trenches directly. Some of my friends and colleagues, who I am proud to say are amazing Rotary Peace Fellows as well, are dealing with trauma and violence in their space every day. During the holidays and as a new year begins I think of them even more and wish for their safety. But me, as I type here safely from my desk, I must say I am thankful for what I have experienced even when it was uncomfortable or unsafe. Those times when I was scared, living with less abundance, or even in harm’s way… those times have taught me to have more gratitude and led me to have a hunger and drive to do good, be good, and help others.
So, in response to my mom’s words of caution I can only think to myself that any one of us can be in the “bad” part of town and it takes each of us to make it a neighborhood, a community, a safe place where we know each other, share, and honor our differences.
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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.