Pacifist is a title I started giving myself after the fateful day I spent with Yoko Ono’s treasure trove of experimental, anti-war art at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain on my first trip abroad. Fifteen years old and wide-eyed, my first plane trip landed me in the heart of jet-lagged sentimentality and an art exhibit calling for non-violence. I can point to that day and know who I became on it, and like anyone, could point to a great number of other days relevant to creating the self, with impacts sometimes felt immediately and other times only much later.
I took Ono for God at the time (her status remains), and in feeling that I had stumbled upon the secrets of the world, I turned ideology into action, moving from pacifist to peacemaker. Ono’s strategies were simple: Take the things you do and see each day, and make peace with them. Her famous Hair Peace became a symbol of the anti-war generation, as she and many others refused to cut their hair as an act of defying the violence that would otherwise be shown with scissors and blades. Bed Peace was another favorite, a 10-day event during which she and John Lennon invited the press to broadcast their gentility as they led a “bed-in” advocating for nonviolence. Living this way, with a conscious extension of effort toward object-awareness and making peace becomes cumulative, habitual.
Perhaps my own peacemaking has become cumulative, habitual. Since that fateful spring day, I have all but tattooed Ono’s books into my mind, have become a pupil of the nation’s leading peace scholars, invested my time in human rights projects, studied disarmament around the globe, written plays to nudge the world toward change, and found myself speaking in public fora on issues of citizenship, nonviolence and our chances for perpetual peace.
And yet as the new year brought forth the long-awaited shared experience of watching the clock, I found myself ruminating on the areas of my life with which I had not made peace. The construction of peace, be it at micro or macro scales, seems to me to require only intention and adamancy. Neglected in my previous pursuits — and at the forefront of my mind, as the fireworks greeted the new calendar year — was making peace with the very thing we stood around to watch: the passing of time itself.
We are headfirst in the winter semester of university, facing a multitude of goodbyes: to old courses and their expired syllabi, to old selves by way of resolutions for betterment in 2019, to friends who will soon graduate and move away. This liminality and tumult is a source of real anxiety for me and many others. I have been known to greet the uncertainties of the future with stasis and a fear of commitment to that which is fleeting. For many people I know, the heartache that time brings — by taking people we love and the people we think we are — is an unbearable one.
And yet, watching time pass in that suspended state after midnight on New Year’s incited reflection on the momentousness of 2018. To take stock of a year in the life of the self is to recall its fullness: in joys and disappointments, solitudes and company. For me, 2018 was a year of incomparable growth and mobility. I spent a fourth of it living in Iceland and solo-traveling throughout Scandinavia, during which I felt constantly aware of time’s strange behavior. I wandered in an extended period of heightened sensitivity, loving a place and its landscapes, art and people wholeheartedly, fully. Every seaside mountain and cat roaming the street and stroll through a garden invoked in me tremendous love.
My heart was a thousand unsent thank-you cards and a thousand unsent love letters every moment of every day.
Local friends and I drove through countryside, lounged in cafes, and hiked postcard-style lands, and each moment, I knew, was the last of its kind. For three months, I was in a constant state of loving — deeply — and leaving. The solo travel was just as liminal. The cityscapes and hostel friends filled me and my days with a cinematic wholeness — the discovery and subsequent tenderness toward the details of the Scandinavian landscape was constant.
So, too, was the leaving.
For a long while after I returned to the States, I grieved for the too intense loving-and-leaving in which my heart had engaged. Time, it seemed, had taken back everything it gave.
To make peace with the passage of time means to accept the constancy of this fluctuation. That the liminality is the guarantee. That the loving comes with the leaving. To me, having to say goodbye to those we care for is made easier when we remember the world is small, and if we’re lucky, life is long. Making peace with the passage of time means granting yourself the opportunity to feel and care fully, no matter the rate of return.
Time-induced iterations of our selves are perhaps our greatest gifts. We both shed and acquire faults and failings, virtues and successes. We are both timeworn and always reborn. Perhaps our transience is our only guarantee. If that is so, making peace with time means aching for our old selves only in moderation, knowing that new ones are in constant creation.
The 15-year-old could not have dreamed what she would become, or what the world around her would become, or that she would find herself, at 20, on a Reykjavik shoreline looking at the inscriptions on Ono’s Peace Tower. Thankfully she had the foresight to let go of the pieces of her self that no longer became her, embracing transience as a tool for change instead of a penalty. Perhaps, in the quest for peacemaking, I will do the same. My heart has learned how to be simultaneously full of goodbye letters and greeting cards. Maybe this making of peace with the passage of time is to 2019 what Hair Peace was to the ‘70s.
May we all strive to make a little more peace in these lives, transient as they are.