by Karen, Fountain House Gallery Studio Coordinator
For most of us peace appears in interludes, in sporadic moments that we drift into and are jolted out of. For the most part, peace comes when the noise of daily life and the chatter of memories and expectations abate. And then there is the war within myself, the war of being.
New York City living, more often than not, is determined to undermine peace. The intrusion of humanity crashing into each other is unavoidable. Paradoxically, as we celebrate the season defined by Peace on Earth, hordes of people descend upon New York to gawk at the tree or marvel at shop windows. Navigating the sidewalk takes far too much out of me and a simple three block walk is an exercise in maintaining my equilibrium.
What then is precious is our intangible moments of peace and what can we give in this season that comes from that place. Two incidents come to mind, each an uncomfortable examination of my own fragile condition. Many New Yorkers (okay, maybe all) have experienced the homeless or the mentally ill in public places. This morning, in the corner of the A train was someone, a male by all evidence, sitting in the corner with his coat pulled over his head, and he was either sleeping or trying to sleep. There was nothing about him that was dangerous or repulsive. Yet no one sat in the two vacant seats next to him, people came in, looked at him, looked at the vacant seat and chose to stand.
Why then is it that our equilibrium is disturbed by someone sleeping? Why does he shake us? Is it the coat pulled over his head?
A few months back a well-dressed man in an expensive cashmere coat cursed a man on the train for panhandling.
Again, it begs that question, why is our equilibrium disturbed by this? Why would you, who clearly have, be angry at him for not having?
A dear friend once complained of the homeless that “she shouldn’t have to see that”.
She was blond, she was beautiful, and she was healthy. What was it that disturbed her?
I am struck by the contrariness of our nature, the shunning of the vulnerable and needy. The demonizing of those who do not have what we do. What is it about them that makes us turn from them? Why anger? Why discomfort? Why does the disquiet of others cause us to divest ourselves of our own inner peace?
I remember one cold day on Main Street, Flushing. My sister had just bought herself a coffee. We speed walked down the road and she came to an abrupt stop. In a doorway was a man begging and trying to stay warm. I barely saw him. She handed him the coffee. It was a prosaic gesture, it was done without a beat in her conversation. “You look like you need this more than me" she then said to him, “I can always get another”. We kept on walking.
I’m not sure I need to know why my sister is unconsciously kind, why she is never disturbed by the needy, but I do know that she is a peaceful soul, does what needs to be done, and goes on. All things considered, in this season, the season of family, giving, generosity and warmth, maybe the definition of keeping our peace is in the kindness that lives in the long arc of peace’s extension in small acts of inclusion, kindness and generosity.