Without peace in your life, it is difficult to do much. The peace and security that allow a person to sleep well rather than waking at every sound are essential for wellbeing. Without peace, the voice of spirit cannot be heard. Without peace, no work can be done. But what do you do when life does not, for one reason or another, allow you that necessary, essential peace? For a lot of people in all kinds of different circumstances, there are times when you have to choose between needful peace, and all that is familiar.
In the UK (and no doubt other countries too) large towns and cities have refuges for women who flee domestic abuse. There are helplines and centres for abused children who go on the run. Some folks don’t manage to access this support and just end up in the streets. At what point do you decide that the lack of peace in your home, in your life, makes it worth taking your chances and being homeless? There are people making that choice every day.
Across the world there are countless people fleeing war zones and oppression. There are countries that still want to put people to death for being gay, adulterous or witches. There have been so many examples of ‘ethnic cleansing’ where a subset of people are forced out. When does it become too much? When do you run? I can barely imagine what it must be like to give up everything you have known and flee like that. Thinking about how many people do face such trials and hardships puts my own life into a lot of perspective. I have not lost everything.
I wonder about the other side too. For every fleeing person, there is some other person who prompted it. An aggressor, abuser, war-maker, ethnic-cleanser… someone who feels entirely justified (I assume) in their actions. Stories that make the news sometimes, of horrific killings, tortures, massacres, make me wonder what kind of head space you have to be in to justify that to yourself. It’s tempting to believe that the perpetrators are other, somehow, not like us… but how close do any of us come to pushing others to breaking point? Would we even know, necessarily? Could you drive another human being to despair and destitution without even seeing that was what you were doing? Perhaps.
Not everyone runs. There are people dying on a daily basis because they’ve stood their ground, or refused to believe the degree of danger. There are people who don’t run because they can’t imagine anyone would really go so far as to kill them. People who are too afraid to run, or do not believe it could be better elsewhere. People conditioned into believing they deserve it.
How would you know when to keep trying, and when to run for your life, giving up all but the clothes you stand up in? Every day, someone, somewhere will be making that choice, and not all of them make the right call. Every day, people are making smaller decisions about how much to tolerate and excuse, or how hard to push. Is today the day we throw stones as well as verbal abuse? Each small decision pushes us closer to the big ones, in such circumstances. Run or stay, kill or tolerate. Every erosion of peace takes us closer to putting individuals, or whole communities, in danger. The small actions matter. The little cruelties lead to bigger ones. I wish I had answers, but I don’t.