I was on my way to visit one of our members just up the hill from town, when I noticed I was about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. I turned up a side street and stopped in a quiet neighborhood to look at my calendar and get my head together for the week that had just begun. After no more than 2 or 3 minutes I saw out of the corner of my eye an elderly gentleman approach my truck with a little white dog in tow.
“Can I help you?” he said with very little emotion, not at all preparing me for what was to follow.
“No thanks. I am just going to be here for a few minutes, before I visit a friend across the highway.”
Then his entire demeanor changed. “This street is only for people who live here. We don’t want your kind here, so get out!” The speed with which his emotions and tone of voice accelerated was quite amazing.
“If I ever see you here again, I will drag you out of that truck myself and kick your ass!” The little dog was getting into the spirit of things by this time, yapping excitedly and baring his teeth at me, as if on cue. For a moment I thought I had been transported into a Quentin Tarantino movie or a Stephen King novel.
What had been a quiet, peaceful, even serendipitous moment, turned nasty in the twinkling of an eye. Thinking I had found a few moments to be alone, I was astounded to discover I had wandered into enemy territory. And I was the enemy! I was a mere 10 minutes from town, but I might as well have been in Sadr City.
Needless to say, my ass and I left that neighborhood, and as I rolled away, the little white dog was barking at my truck with a clear message: “And STAY away!” It was an ugly experience – surreal, baffling – and it stayed with me all day. I couldn’t shake it off. I am not sure I have even yet.
What has helped me in my effort to do so, however, was seeing the film Joyeux Noel, a remarkable true story from World War I. In December, 1914, the Germans were engaged in trench warfare with some French and British troops. Numerous dead bodies lay in the space between these enemy combatants.
Late one night, during a period of calm, one of the Germans began to sing Silent Night. The tones of the music drifted across the frozen No Man’s Land between them, and captured the attention of soldiers on both sides. Then a British bag piper began playing the same song in accompaniment as the German singer, from his own trench, continued singing. They were making music together!
Détente escalated. Gradually officers and soldiers met each other in the middle and agreed to an informal cease fire. Later there would be hell to pay for this little escapade, from military brass on all sides. But for this one day these soldiers found something remarkable, as they shared life stories, discovered unexpected connections, experienced a common bond, and for a short time made their own peace with one another.
They engaged in the worst possible military offence – at least in the minds of the organizers of the war – fraternization with the enemy. Desertion is one person’s choice to run from the conflict. Fraternization is going nose to nose with the very idea of war, and bringing others with you. It's an in-your-face statement, a refusal to fight. It takes the very heart and soul out of the conflict. It makes a fellow human being out of one’s enemy.
Late one morning not long ago, I wandered into enemy territory unexpectedly and tasted something of the darkness of the human spirit. What happened on that European battlefield long ago, was just the opposite. Those enemies wandered unexpectedly onto the field of friendship and peace, and it changed their lives forever.
We would like to think that the worst conflict of our day is raging on foreign soil far away. But the darkness of fear and hatred can be very close to home. As we look to the promise of 2007, know that peace is not where you find it, but where you make it.
Blessings to you and your family for a wonderful, peaceful new year!