No matter how you measure it, an hour is an hour, 60 minutes of time. However, one’s perspective very definitely comes into play because an unpleasant situation can seem to go on forever and the time spent waiting for the results of a medical test can feel endless. But when I’m engaged in something as enjoyable and stimulating as the Intergenerational Writing Project, time doesn’t just fly – it moves at warp speed.
The site of the Feb. 27 meeting was the school, which I think of as “starship” Turning Point, where this group of explorers has proven itself quite proficient at charting the fascinating territory of core beliefs and concepts.
In previous meetings we had talked and written about kindness, moral courage and citizenship. Our homework assignment for this meeting was to write a poem about peace, and there was a wealth of rich material in the students’ presentations. Although the discussion that followed each poem was perceptive and lively, it seemed we were barely scratching the surface because of the constraints of time. As usual, our session whizzed by in the blink of an eye, and at the end of the hour I felt like stomping my foot and yelling, “No, no, I want MORE!”
The variety of writing styles ran the gamut from terse and staccato to detailed and image-laden, and an array of ideas and emotions permeated the poems. The writers’ personalities clearly came through, and I was intrigued to see how they handled the instruction they’d been given, which was to end each stanza with the same refrain.
Some students added an extra twist.
The first two students quoted below also created a repetitive opening to start each stanza. The third student quoted broke his refrain into two lines. The fourth student quoted also did something different, using one refrain for her first four stanzas and a different one to end the remaining four.
Some brief excerpts follow, to provide a taste of the creative buffet before me at this particular session.
“I am peace/Yes me/You too/We are peace/I am peace/Join in/That means you/We are peace.”
“Peace is as pure/As a heavenly soul/To lift your spirits with its beauty/Peace is special/Peace is as pure/As a single egg or hatchling that can/Bring purpose to this world in its own way/Peace is special.”
“Peace is about freedom/Freedom of speech and religion/So we can live together/Peacefully/Peace is an abstract concept/That is understood by some/But teach peace/To the people that don’t understand/To make the world a better place/So we can live together/Peacefully.”
“Peace means something calm/Whether it’s a person staying calm/When disaster strikes/Or a gentle, summer sun with a cool cup of lemonade/Peace really means no other thing than to be outright just nice/Peace means no yelling/Nice words/Words that are soothing/No violence, nothing of it at all/Peace really means no other thing than to be outright just nice/There is a little girl/With a missing front tooth/Smiling with so much tenderness/It could brighten the entire whole world/That is nice; that is peace/There is a world/Not a gun in sight/No evil thoughts/No evil people/That is nice; that is peace.”
“Peace is helping others/Peace is community service/Peace is complementing/Peace is not dissing/Peace is mine to give/Peace is not hurting/Peace is friendship/Peace is kindness, respect and care/Peace is stepping in others’ shoes/Peace is mine to give.”
“Peace is a shell/Creeping its way to everyone’s sea/Starting with just one/Showing the peace through clear salt water/Peace belongs to you/Peace is music/Singing in your life/Humming a melody in the ripples of my pores/Taking in the successes of life/Peace belongs to you.”
“Don’t fight/Don’t yell/Don’t kill/Keep peace alive/Share peace/Keep peace/Live in peace/Keep peace alive.”
“Peace is something to hold onto for forever/Peace is no violence/Peace is love/Peace is trust/Peace is kindness/Peace is what to have/Peace is a welcoming friend/Peace is no bullies/Peace is no fights/Peace is no more war/Peace is collaboration/Peace is togetherness/Peace is a newborn child/Peace is what to have.”
“Love not hate/Start with a new slate/Learn from our pasts/Peace starts with us/Use what you were born with/A voice/Common sense/Not firearms/Peace starts with us/Don’t respond with war/Respond with peace/All is not fair in war/Fairness comes in love and peace/Peace starts with us.”
It occurred to me that the refrains could combine into one composite poem: “Peace is special/Peace is what to have/Peace starts with us/Peace belongs to you/Peace is mine to give/We are peace/Peace means no other thing than to be outright just nice/That is nice; that is peace/Keep peace alive/So we can live together/Peacefully.”
The students discussed the thinking behind their poems, with one boy declaring himself a skeptic who, although he believed we’d never have peace, had turned in a poem simply to satisfy the homework assignment because he felt that war was inevitable due to human nature, and “once it breaks containment, it goes viral.” His remarks unleashed several responses. One girl gently but firmly commented that he was “so right and so wrong,” emphasizing that while bad is contagious, good is contagious as well and can overtake the bad in life. Interestingly, this boy had written a strong, positive poem so I suspect his cloak of avowed skepticism actually enfolds a hopeful soul with contrarian instincts and critical thinking skills.
Miriam, my fellow volunteer, offered her very personal take on peace by recalling her childhood in Shanghai when it was under Japanese occupation. She was approximately the same age as the students at that time, and one girl in particular was transfixed by Miriam’s recollections because of a book the student had read involving a Shanghai child.
As our session neared its end I could feel my teeth grinding in frustration, knowing there were so many facets we could have explored if we’d just had more time. Then I remembered a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “Time is like a handful of sand. The tighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your fingers.” Maybe rather than fretting about how quickly the hour was zooming by, I should focus on simply enjoying the zoom. Hmmm . . . whatever lessons the students were learning, I guess I was tucking away something of value as well: Be here now, be in the moment.
We concluded by reading Mother Teresa’s Anyway Poem which entreated us, despite whatever obstacles we encounter from others, to give the world the best we’ve got. That led to our assignment for our final meeting back at the senior center on March 6, to write an advice poem that reflects on all of the topics we’ve covered in our sessions this year: kindness, moral courage, citizenship and peace.
That is going to be SOME session and I plan to savor, minus regrets and with a great deal of appreciation, every marvelous moment of the zoom.