“Peace on earth, goodwill to men”

I have been a seeker of peace all my life. Not the kind that has to do with war, or being a peacemaker in desperate places. I have been a seeker of peace of heart. As a trauma survivor, peace of heart has been as elusive as trying to catch a greased pig at the county fair. I am still on the search. The fourth verse in the old Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” expresses the struggle. 

“And in despair, I bowed my head

There is no peace on Earth,  I said

For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men”

When Apartheid came to an end, Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa was faced with the terrible problem of how to bring peace to a nation torn apart by trauma. Torture, murder, and years of injustice were a gaping wounds impossible to heal until Bishop Tutu among others came up with an idea. What if they formed a commission to listen to the survivors? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed to reach out to as many South Africans as possible. At first, they were afraid very few would be interested, but in the end, the statements of more than twenty thousand people were taken; both perpetrators and victims. This is his account of that time.

“People had been bottled up for so long that when the chance came for them to tell their stories, the floodgates opened. I never ceased to marvel, after these people had told their nightmarish tales, that they looked so ordinary. They laughed, they conversed, and they went about their daily lives looking to all the world to be normal, whole persons with not a single concern in the world. And then you heard their stories and wondered how they had survived for so long carrying such a heavy burden of grief and anguish so quietly, so unobtrusively, with dignity and simplicity. How much we owe them can never be computed.”

Perhaps my search for peace has been so difficult because ultimately, peace requires telling the truth. And that is the one thing abusers hate. My abusers used lies, traps, intimidation, and coercion. They did everything they could to keep me quiet. Now they are prisoners of what they have done, not me. They are the ones who refuse to tell the truth or even listen to it. I am free. And my freedom does not depend on what my abusers do, say or believe anymore. As Bishop Tutu says, “The truth hurts, but lies kill.”

Truth allows us to be free of the power of our abusers and makes room at last, for peace. I was not able to let go of anger, hatred, retribution, and revenge until my story was told. Peace has come to the deep places of my heart. As my healing journey continues, may peace flow in, ever deeper, and may the closing words of the fifth verse of Longfellow’s verse come to pass.

“The wrong shall fail, the right, prevail

with peace on earth goodwill, to men”

There is no more desperate place than the heart of a trauma survivor. May you and I be peacemakers there, in that place, the deep place of our hearts. And in so doing be peacemakers in the world. Defy trauma, and with peace of heart, embrace joy. 

“We are each made for goodness, love, and compassion. Our lives are transformed as much as the world is when we live with these truths.”

-Desmond Tutu

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