Piecing it Together: A New York Jew Finds Peace
When you break a tooth, you go to a dentist. When your shoes need heels, you go to a shoemaker. When your hair is too long, you go to a barber. Such small problems are conveniently remedied, easily fixed.
But what do you do when it is your heart that needs repair? Where do you look when it is your home that is broken? What do you do when all you really want, deep down, is peace, and you can’t seem to find it? Where do you go to find a peacemaker?
In 1970, that was the predicament of Hilary. Her boyfriend Steve, one of the leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.) on the Queens College Campus, had broken off their relationship after finding a woman whose ideology was closer” to his own. Hilary wouldn’t have needed the break-up so much, but her own ideas about love, life and politics were becoming shaky. Uncertainty dogged her. What had once seemed a crystal-clear ideology was now muddied disillusionment.
Hilary was proud that she had helped shut down Queens College; she had disrupted classes with the others by shouting “Peace, peace, on strike, shut it down!” She had helped hurl bricks at the “eyes” of the school’s administration building. In fact, she could still just about hear the sound of shattering glass. The crash and tinkle were sounds of achievement. They meant that peace was on the way.
She damaged and destroyed what she could of her own school as a sacrifice to her ideals of peace and justice. Afterward, it seemed to make little sense and she found herself wondering, “Where are dying idealists buried, anyway?”
At home, things were not much more peaceful. Hilary barely knew her father. He seemed to work all the time and worried out loud about money matters. Busy was his day and burdened was his evening. He was too burdened making a living to allow himself to enjoy living – or even to enjoy his two beautiful daughters and one bright little boy.
And Hilary’s mother? No one faulted her for going back to school for her degree, but it would have been nice to have her around to talk to.
And now Hilary’s parents were getting a divorce after 22 years of marriage. Her father had found a woman who “understood him.” What was there to understand? The divorce didn’t make much sense; they didn’t seem to fight much. Things “just weren’t working out” between their parents.
Hilary tried to think about the things in her life that were working – like her dance class. She knew she wasn’t good enough to be a professional dancer, but she was keeping up with the fast pace of the class. Maybe she should pursue a career in dance therapy …or as a dance teacher. Maybe. How was she supposed to know without anyone to guide her? Life was beginning to seem like some absurd play, with a cast of characters ad-libbing their way through a vague script by some unknown author. Hilary didn’t even know what role was hers! Still, she reasoned that at twenty she was too young to worry about where it would all end up.
Besides, there was that wonderful dancer in the class, David. True, she probably shouldn’t have spent so much time with him before the breakup with Steve, but a few meals and a couple of friendly kisses didn’t add up to cheating, did they? Okay, so maybe it had been wrong, but Steve never found out, so there hadn’t been any harm done, had there?
As the months went on, Hilary realized how very serious David was about dance. Her dabbling interest paled in the light of his commitment to his art. She really couldn’t share that commitment and resented it when it began cutting into their time together. As Hilary drifted away from David, she saw herself for what she really was – someone who liked to play! Most likely, that was what attracted her to Barry and Danny, two friends she’d made in her painting class. They laughed a lot together!
Hilary switched her major from dance to art. She was too excited about her new friends and the world they were opening up to her to think much about politics anymore. Barry and Danny were into peace, but they claimed that it could be found in art and nature. The threesome spent much of their time hiking, camping, canoeing, and cooking vegetarian meals together.
Hilary was finally beginning to feel a sense of ease in her life, so she was unprepared, even shocked, when one evening after they had watched a beautiful sunset, Barry said, “Let’s pray and thank God for this day.” “Pray? Thank God? What does he have to do with any of this?” Hilary demanded.
Her own “bout with religion” had ended with her bat mitzvah. Nature and beauty – they were becoming her new “religion.” God seemed rather impotent, as far as Hilary was concerned. He couldn’t even pull off the peace movement, or keep her parents together.
But Barry persisted, pushing the God-thing to the point of attending a Bible study and hanging out with “Jesus freaks.” When he went so far as to become one himself Hilary found herself insisting that Barry couldn’t become a Jesus freak because he couldn’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus. Why, they had hardly ever discussed religion, and now they were talking about it all the time! Hilary felt threatened when Danny also began going to the Bible studies. Once again, people she cared for were committed to something, to someone, that seemed to leave her out.
One day Hilary wrote Barry a note. It said, “Your beliefs are obviously very good for you. I see some nice things happening in your life – you seem like you’re at peace, and I’m happy for you! But I have my music and my art and my cooking and my plants; they’re enough for me.” Hilary lost the note before she had a chance to give it to Barry. Instead, she decided that “just one time” she would go with her friends to their Bible study. After all, THEY were important to her, even if their beliefs were a little wacky.
What Hilary heard and saw that night, in a room filled with about twenty other people, disturbed her. The words of the New Testament were different from anything she had ever heard, and they sounded good. But she wondered how they could be true – wouldn’t she have heard them already if they were? She decided to listen and learn just enough to show Barry and Danny that they were wrong. She returned to the Bible study each week for the next two months, and in between they argued and talked constantly about the Bible and about Jesus.
Hilary was in her bedroom, thinking about the people she was meeting at these studies. They seemed so sure of what they believed, and most seemed to be at peace with themselves. One of the women had explained that the peace “came from her relationship with God.” Alone in her room, Hilary remembered the look of contentment on that woman’s face. She felt as if her entire being cried out for that same peace, that same contentment. A scene from a few years earlier flashed through her mind—she was running through one of the college’s corridors, shouting, “Peace, peace!” She remembered running, running, running. She realized she was still running, but she hadn’t gotten any closer to her ideals, and was in danger of losing them altogether.
Hilary thought about her brother and sister, who were asleep. She thought about her mother, who was off at some class, and about her father, who was now living with his new girlfriend. She thought about the windows she had once broken in the name of “peace,” and couldn’t help comparing them to her family, which had been shattered because of “love.” She needed something that could pull the fragments of her life together, some cosmic sort of glue to bind all the fragments together and make her feel whole.
But where do you look to find a good peacemaker? Hilary turned the pages of the Bible Barry had given her. Maybe some of that peace would rub off on her if she read the same things the others were studying. She didn’t have to accept this Jesus they were talking about. Maybe she’d get some of that peace by osmosis! Hilary read a few chapters from the Book of John, then turned off the light and went to bed.
Not “The End”
Because two months later, Hilary realized that the peace she wanted was God’s peace. She found her peacemaker in Yeshua, the Prince of Peace predicted in Isaiah 9:6. She claimed his promise, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, let it not be fearful” (John 14:27). Hilary didn’t find an instant solution for putting all the pieces back together, but God’s peace enabled her to meet life’s troubles and fears head-on.