Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

IMAGINING PEACE

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In David Bergen’s Giller Prize-nominated The Matter With Morris, from HarperCollins, a man named Morris Schutt is having a hard time holding on to reality. At the heart of it lies the death of Morris’s son in Afghanistan. Morris can’t accept his son’s death, largely because he has trouble imagining the reality of war.

Much of Morris’s life is lived at an emotional remove. He is a pacifist and a newspaper columnist who frequently writes about family life more than he might actually be said to live it. After his son’s death, Morris’s wife becomes distant and eventually they separate. Morris begins an affair with an American woman he has corresponded with. She has also lost a son in the war.

Driving through the US to meet Ursula for the first time, Morris sees a billboard showing a marine and proclaiming, “Devoted to a life of courage.” Coming from Canada—where we also do our part in wars—Morris’s reality, however, is that we are more likely to be devoted to a life as peacekeepers rather than aggressors. He tries to explain this to Ursula. As an American, however, she can’t imagine peace. “Nobody’s a pacifist,” she says, with a smile.

Not long after the tragic events of 9-11, John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, took out a full-page ad in The New York Times. “Imagine Peace,” it said. Perhaps I should not have been surprised when there was a backlash against Ono for that ad. Many Americans (and, indeed, many around the world) wanted war, not peace. Americans are fond of slogans; it helps them make sense of the world. But like many of us, they believe in a more concrete reality. They have a hard time imagining concepts like “peace.” War is more tangible.

With those two succinct words, Ono was not just chanting a slogan. She was saying far more than most people understood. Having been raised in post-Hiroshima Japan, where food was scarce, she and her brother invented menus and ate imaginary meals during the shortages as a way of warding off hunger and trying to survive. Imagining was a reality for Ono, not just a slogan.

In 1969, in the middle of the Vietnam War, Ono said, “Imagine peace.” Lennon said, “Let’s go to bed.” They did just that—in Canada, of all places. Back then peace was just as hard a thing for Americans to imagine. One noted journalist pooh-poohed John for his anti-war bed-in. “Dear boy,” she said, in a condescending tone. “Do you really think that you’re doing any good by doing this?” Look at the Peace Movement today. Its adopted anthem, Give Peace A Chance, is a cry heard round the world. Sometimes the intangible attains mass, or at least it gains a great deal of positive motion. It is possible to change things.

Back then, a lot of people hated Ono. She broke up the Beatles, they would tell you. At the time, I, like many, thought Lennon was the message. Now I think it was really Ono. Lennon was merely the messenger. “Imagine peace,” Ono said, when many wanted war. Lennon simply helped get the message across loudest. Perhaps that’s why he was shot. We still shoot our messengers and peace is still a difficult thing for many to imagine.

This season, whatever you celebrate, take time to imagine a little peace.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Jeffrey Round

Jeffrey Round is an award-winning writer and director. His most recent novel is The Honey Locust.

Go to Jeffrey Round’s Author Page