The Impression of Peace

Carcassonne. 2007. Photo by Douglas Pinson

It’s something we really don’t know much about at all. In our own lives. The absence of war. Even to the extent that we’re not involved, we see it elsewhere, hear about it, note its presence on the news, in books, in history, on film. It surrounds us, this absence, this lack of the presence of anything remotely akin to peace — again, whether or not we’ve ever experienced its opposite.


In. The. Air. It’s with us wherever we go. Perhaps it’s like the knowledge of an impending storm we know is ready to dump flotillas of hard rain on us from above. Dark skies. More than that. We’ve internalized this and it’s why we do whatever we can not to think about it and escape.

Escape into buying things. Stuff. Escape into, ironically, stories and films and documentaries and songs about war, violence, overwhelming aggression, death. In many ways, this escape is really an indirect confrontation with the thing itself, and acts as a prophylactic for us, takes us as close as we can go, while still being safely distanced from death and destruction. If we confront it this way, something inside us says, we won’t ever have to do so in reality. But few people are likely to ever be much convinced by those little voices, which spurs yet more escapism.

We find peace where we can. Everyone has their own way. I go to the mountains. Stay quiet, or listen to music through the headphones as I take in the landscape, the blue skies, the many-colored mountain ranges, the dark brown and green shadows dancing on their tops, close enough to me to make me believe I can touch them, though I can’t, without falling to my . . .

And I think tonight what this all must be doing to humans, even the “safest” among us — and I’m not by any means forgetting the millions who actually do experience its horrors, directly, immediately, and sometimes for year upon year. They, of course, don’t have the luxury of pondering things in the same way I do here. They’re too busy burying the dead and trying to stay alive themselves, to avoid quick or slow death and destruction to the best of their abilities.

What does the thought, remote as it may be, that war is right around the corner in time and space, in a myriad of forms, do to us as a species? And what would it be like to flip this on its head in a sense, to expect peace, to live within it, to know it intimately, close by, far away, the past, the present, the future? What would it be like to be human and see violence, war, murder, rape, pillage and environmental destruction as the mother of all aberrations? What things could we do with our short time on earth if that were our foundation? What art, music, literature and so on would we make?

Would a life of true peace and the deepest understanding of interrelated existence set the ground for the greatest explosion of creativity we could possibly imagine? Or would it be the death of the arts? Are they born out of the swirling tumult of endangered life and existential dread, as so many writers, philosophers, artists and musicians have claimed throughout history? Or would that art just morph into something we’ve never seen and, from the looks of things, never will?

I wonder. I truly wonder what would happen to the thing that means more to me than life itself. Would it survive if we could destroy the endless destruction that surrounds us? Could we make art in the midst of endless happiness as far as the eye can see?


The Impression of Peace
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