Here is the final part of Moe Yonamine’s guest blog.
Part Three by Moé Yonamine
Since our Skype two weeks ago, my students are still talking about two stories Arun told—the mountain story and the peace-farmer story.
Jenni beautifully captured Arun’s message in an essay she wrote: “Have you ever noticed how people of different religions go after each other? And not just religion, but races as well. This hasn’t happened to me personally, but I’ve seen people where they are treated differently just because their skin is a different color, or they come from a different religion. We brought the topic up to Mr. Gandhi, and he told us the story about the mountains. The story is simply saying that there’s no reason for us to treat each other badly. We may come from different parts of the world, but we are all heading to the same place. We all want to reach the top of the mountain. We just take different paths to get there.”
This story unfolded in the home of Jesse a few nights after the talk with Arun. Jesse shared this in his reflective writing: “Living in a household where Catholicism has been in my family since the start can be conflicting when I talk about my perspective on religion. I believe in self-reflection and peace with your physical and spiritual body. My mom is open to hear my beliefs, but my step-dad isn’t on the same page. The most recent discussion I had with my step-dad was intense. While I listened to my step-dad, I thought about the talk we had with Mr. Gandhi. I was thinking about the story of the mountain. I asked my step-dad why judge and talk bad about other religions. Religions may have different beliefs, but they all strive to get to the same place. Sitting in silence for a couple of minutes made me realize he was thinking. He began to talk about his acceptance of my beliefs. I would like to think that I changed the way he thinks after that night, and that he would end the type of violence he was doing.”
Arun ended the Skype conference with a story in response to Ibrahim’s question, “Do you think peace will ever come upon this earth?” Arun responded, “Yes. Perhaps not in my lifetime and maybe not in yours. But it will.” Then he shared the old Chinese proverb, “In a thousand mile journey, you must take the first step.” He ended his talk to my students with the precious story of the peace-farmer:
A long time ago, a king was in search of finding out what “peace” meant. He went to a wise man in the village and asked him, “What does it mean to have peace?” The wise man gave him a grain of wheat and told the king to keep it in his golden box, and so the king did. Days went past and the king forgot about the grain of wheat. When he remembered and looked into the box, there was nothing but rotted pieces of wheat. The king went back to the wise man and asked him, “What is this?” The wise man explained that the grain of wheat is like peace. You must plant the seeds and let it grow. If you let it grow, the wheat will spread. If you do not, the wheat will rot, just like peace.
Arun carefully looked at all of my students watching him so quietly that you could’ve heard a pin drop. He said, “I am giving you the grain of wheat today and trust that you will not let it rot but will let it spread. I hope that you will join me as peace-farmers for your generation.” With this, he said good-bye and students jumped up on their feet, joyfully waving their arms in the air, grinning and applauding. Student after student came and expressed their appreciation for having been a part of the Skype. Curtis, flustered with excitement said “That was the most I have ever learned in all of my years in school!” I asked him if he’d like a video of the Skype and he said, “No, I memorized everything with my eyes and ears. I will never forget a word.”
Now two weeks later, we are still empowered by that conversation with Arun. Jesse’s words capture the sentiments shared by many of my students:
“Thinking about what you spoke about made me want to make myself a better person so I could help more people. I don’t want to see my fellow brothers killing each other over simple colors or words. After listening to you, I made a goal for myself to help and have a big impact on the people around me and people who are far. I hope to help people around the world in the future. You will see me in the future fighting for what is right. Thank you.”
Indeed, thank you, Arun, for helping us imagine a more just world where our young people are empowered to make the world as they see it should be. As Jenni said, “Some people say they want peace, and that they want change. But in order to do that, you need to prove to yourself that you can be the change you want to see in this world.”
Now to the world, “I’m giving you a seed. And you have a choice. You can either plant it and let it die, or you can continue to water it and see it grow.”
Continued from Part 2: Meeting Mr. Arun Gandhi – Part 2
Moé Yonamine was born in Okinawa and moved with her family to the United States when she was 7. She teaches in Portland, Oregon and writes regularly for Rethinking Schools magazine. Yonamine is part of the network of Zinn Education Project teachers developing original curriculum to reflect the diversity of today’s U.S. students and to address gaps in the official curriculum. She wrote ‘But You Guys Wanted Us Here’, a film that tackles the U.S. occupation of Japan.