“Better than robbing a bank!” said the man in the beaver hat, half-kidding, half-serious, standing over the stranger he was talking to in the second floor of the library. He gave the stranger sitting down an over-friendly jab on the shoulder and continued, “I go by the Bible’s principles. If a man can’t trust another man, then what good is all this,” he waved his hand at the law books the man was reading. “Then how are we going to ever get out of Iraq and end this war.”
I was in the library, working on my writing assignments, but now the beaver man attracted all my curiosity. He had found sanctuary, like me, in the literature section with the likes of Stephen King, Faulkner, Hemingway, Twain and O’Conner – the American literary greats. The beaver man wore tennis shoes, blue jeans, and a rough cotton shirt. His eyes were hollowed out in the valleys of his face. He arrived at my table with a square black case, a large overstuffed white envelope, and his calculator, ready to fulfill his duty to the government and fill out his tax forms. I subtly observed him.
Before he opened up his case, I noticed a black and white sticker and on it “9-11” and “war.” He wore a pin on his shirt with the reverse colors, black letters that spelled “Committ” on a white background, a slogan or word I had never heard before. It seemed like some kind of rallying statement. How long had he had it? How long had he been wearing pins and stickers, carrying signs and preaching peace?
What ensued were grunts and sighs. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he blurted out loud. After a while, he rose up suddenly and walked to the window, his eyes searching beyond the confines of politics and money boxes. I related with his yearning to find deeper meaning – is this all there is? Then he disappeared around the aisles of American fiction, only to suddenly reappear later, like some figure of the past who was still searching to find his place in the story, or his piece in the peace. Where was the peace he had been rallying for all his life?
One look at his papers sprawled out all over the table put him at unrest again. Taxes had no appeal to him now. That is why he turned to the man at the next table over, the white bearded man in a grey shirt and black sock hat. The man in the beaver hat drew curiously over, the beaver tail hanging behind his head. “If you don’t mind me asking,” he began, “Are you studying government? You’re not a lawyer, are you?”
The man answered no and murmured that he was studying to complete some kind of suit or law cases. From the tidbits I gathered he was studying for a degree in a new job. The more they chatted, the more amiable the man in the beaver hat became. Finally, he gave the stranger a friendly pat in admiration and wished him luck. “Better than robbing a bank!” he said and advised, “Don’t expect to make anything the first six months.”
I sat there and mused, my mind turning completely different matters than before. Where is the answer for peace? Is it in robbing the bank so we have financial “security”? Is it in our power-hungry careers? Is it in bigger government that provides for us after we have given our freedoms away? Is it in robbery or well-earned corporate successes, progressivism, consumerism or market increases? If so, then why are there growing divisions, rivalry, putting your fellow man down, national insecurities, and global wars? Yes, the more we reach for, the less we have. The more our arms grab and cling to, the less freedom we possess. The man in the beaver hat was right, “If a man can’t trust another man, then what good is all of this?”
I recalled his height, but how he slouched over at the shoulders, as if carrying the weight of a generation of fighters: Vietnam protesters, revolutionaries, tree-huggers and hippies. How many causes had he joined? Were they won or lost? And did it matter? Does any of it matter?
When all of this fades away and we are left, stripped of everything…a trumpet will thunder …“man and woman he created them…” and we will remember it all begins and ends with him and her and God. This is how it began and this is how it will end: ourselves accountable before the God who created us.
The greatest interior peace comes from doing the will of God in our lives. As Dante so famously penned in Paradiso, “In His will is our peace.”
Trust within loving relationships will yield peace. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, said “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” To belong to each other is to depend on one another, to hold ourselves responsible for each other’s well being, to be faithful in our promises, to be trustworthy. The family is the most basic cultivating ground for peace. Peace between couples equals peace in families, equals peace between neighbors, equals peace within cities, equals peace between states, countries, and nations. Mother Teresa, in calling us to cultivate peace in the world begins from home base, “I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?”
To all who read this, and to the man in the beaver hat, I hope that you may find and know the peace that you seek.