In 2014, five members of the Ultimate Peace Friendship Tour came to Chicago. I came home from school for the week to help with fundraisers, events, and to show them around. Two members of the group stayed at my house – then second year LITs. I won’t embarrass them too much, but I will say this: They were young, sweet, and a little (maybe more) nervous.
We have talked about Ultimate Peace for a year. We have requested donations, reached out at tournaments, organized complex travel plans, and shared with many people the importance of this work. We flew long, unusual paths to get here and have spent many hours informing and preparing ourselves for some 165 Middle Eastern kids who arrive today.
Are we ready?
Shockingly, it was not as easy as I thought it would be – walking into a new group of young people in a country halfway across the world who chat away familiarly in what seem to me foreign languages. They hug, laugh, cheer, dance, and perform intimately created handshakes as I watch silently from afar, hoping that it’s the sun turning my face red rather than my apparent awkwardness. Occasionally, I exchange shallow conversation with those I met in years past on their Friendship Tour to America.
We’ve made it back to camp and are welcoming in Camp UP 2017! Staff arrived yesterday morning and we’ve been at it ever since – meeting our coaching teams and planning for practices, preparing activities for campers, organizing mountains of gear, climbing trees to put up UP banners, and getting to know one another as members of a creative, collaborative peace-building team. This is camp #8 for me, and one of my favorite parts has always been getting to know the diverse and inspiring set of peacemakers. We all have so much to learn from one another, and it begins the moment we set foot on campus. We’re all putting our own skills to work and gaining new ones in the process.
It was the last night of camp. I’d had a long week, as we all had; I was tired, stressed, and utterly exhausted. We gathered for the last closing circle. I wanted to be more excited about it, be more emotionally invested at that moment but to be completely honest, I felt weary. But I smiled and went about my job, because that’s what we do at camp: we push through. We push through our last drop of energy and find, somewhere, yet another reserve.
We all held hands, making our “Big Circle,” and I ended up next to one of my co-coaches. He put his hand in mine, and all I could think at first was, “ew…gross.” His hand was slippery, covered in sweat, (I’m sure my own was the same), and I wanted the closing circle to end, to find my way to bed. But then, as the singing began and my friend gripped my slippery hand tighter in his, I could feel his heart beating through the palms of our hands.
I won’t lie; as I said I was weary and I was ready for a break. As my alertness faltered, the feel of his heartbeat pulled me back to the moment. I looked up at the deep, indigo night and thought about all the bombs and rockets that had flown over that very same sky. I looked up at the moon and thought about the time that had passed since I’d arrived. I gazed up at the stars, remembering how small we were and how we might as well all stick together as long as we’re here.
I felt myself pulled back in: back into the heart of Ultimate Peace as I watched us all simply be, and I felt not just one but all of our heartbeats. Simply by holding hands, I could feel the beat that kept this young man next to me alive. And if I could feel it, he could too. So could others. And I looked around the Big Circle, the Ma’agal Gadol, the Dayirat Kabira, trying to memorize each face, so that I could remember this scene when I needed it most. I wanted to remember what it felt like to feel so many heartbeats around me, each one stronger than the next, unstoppable together. There was so much life, and as I looked up into the stars I resolved to always look for the heartbeats of others: to reach out and connect, to promise a hope for a better, more peaceful future. Our combined heartbeats, I know, are stronger than we can imagine.
I draw back on that memory, paint the scene in my mind. In my mind, I walk up to each and every member of our Ultimate Peace community, and to my friends and family and countless strangers back home, and I promise them that I will keep working. That we will keep going, together. That our hearts can beat collectively, as one. That I will use my desire for peace between cultures, harmony between governments, unity amongst ourselves, as fuel for action. Today, I am thankful for the memory of heartbeats colliding, together beating for understanding, for hope, and for peace. Today, I imagine gripping the hands that possess such an unconquerable beat. Today, I think of millions of hearts beating as one.