Who among us hasn’t cried out for “a little peace and quiet, if you don’t mind?”

In the ceaseless bath of news, opinion, messaging and media, personal pressures of every kind, not to mention the relentless spinning of our own weary minds, we struggle to find our own island of calm and serenity.  Many of us mothers (come on, admit it) have resorted to shutting ourselves in the bathroom for a few minutes with a beloved book just to get away from the din and demands of family life.

I once knew a fellow whose mother — the wife of a prominent architect who was often away — sent her several kids outside to play, locking herself in her bedroom for one hour every afternoon. My friend said he and his siblings tried to pry her loose by calling up the stairs to report this or that infraction or urgent hunger. She would serenely inquire, “Are you bleeding?” “No,” they’d answer.

“Then go away.”

Of course, I don’t necessarily recommend this as a best practice in parenting. But I understand it.

Given how difficult it is to define and create our own personal peace, or even keep peace in our families, consider the size and complexity of the problem of bringing peace to our communities and the brawling wider world? 

It is a brain numbingly difficult job done by hardy humans bent on action and determined to effect change. Their work defies a cultural perception that peace is essentially passive. Not to impugn the power of passive resistance championed by some of our greatest heroes, but as a dear colleague pointed out to me: You can’t be a bystander in a peace movement; you have to be all in and willing to put others’ needs ahead of your own if you’re going to make any difference at all.

A few years back I was in Los Alamos, New Mexico, working on a book about the national laboratory that created the world’s first atomic bombs. I noticed a bumper sticker on one of the battered pickups favored by a particular breed of rugged engineer. It read ACTUATING PEACE — intended, I thought, to trump the more prevalent bumper stickers that urged us to ENVISION PEACE, as if the latter were just wishful thinking.

In planning this issue of the Saint Mary’s magazine, I couldn’t stop thinking about the difficult job of actuating peace. Not through developing the technology of mutually assured destruction, but through exercising the range of activity that begins with envisioning peace and continues through hard work and self-sacrifice.  Peacemakers and peacekeepers are heroes; they should be celebrated for the many ways they throw themselves into the difficult job of making this planet a tolerable, maybe even wonderful, place to live. We celebrate some of them in our magazine.

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