The Peace Of Wild Things – Poem by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

A class assignment written by a student in Jamaica.

Over 20 years of blood shed! Has violence become my norm? Without thinking about my answer to this question, I would immediately say ‘yes’, crime and violence has become my norm. Born and raised in the community of August Town, nestled in a valley in the parish of St Andrew, surrounded by hills, the Hope River and in close proximity to two universities, this is my community.

Crime, murder and violence have become synonymous with my community’s name. There is never a dull moment, as the sounds of heavy machines and bullets pass by zinc fences and walls bounded by crime scene yellow tape and the stench of bodies piling up year after year.

Bodies? Whose? These are bodies of my family members, friends and criminals too; however, far too many to count. Gunshots and sirens become a recurring, looping audio replay, where little children have stopped asking, “What’s that, Mommy?” The image of police and law-enforcement officers patrolling and taking away young males on the corner is permanently imprinted in my mind. I rush home before sundown as there is sometimes curfew, others have to walk home when JUTC suspends bus routes and other times, there is complete lockdown.

Two decades of tears, heartaches, nine-nights, funerals, burials, peace marches, broken families, motherless and fatherless children. Living in this environment for years has certainly hardened my heart, taught me to be tough on the outside even when I am hurting. Loss of life has become inevitable and if it were by an illness, I would be at peace; sadly, it is always by gunfire. And I know it is not just my community, but it feels like we in August Town are the only ones who hear the bullets, as there is no protest, outrage in the media, demanding that the youth of August Town celebrate their birthdays.

Witnessing poverty and living in poverty, I oftentimes wonder, isn’t a gun expensive? Are we sure that August Town is a poor community? How can there be so much ammunition when each day persons can barely make ends meet and provide for their families? So, who is to be blamed? Is it the politicians, the law-enforcement officers, the Government, the unjust system of oppression and illiteracy? I could point fingers, but then I would be next.

We are silenced by violence, dreams shattered, disappointments, pain and trauma in the midst of your name on the murder list. Innocent children in schools, learning and living in fear, running for cover under their desks and chairs, as the sound of bullets echoes in the valley. Parents have hardened their hearts and are only able to give their children tough love. No ‘I love you’s or the guarantee of seeing them tomorrow, that is not the norm in the garrison. The norm is to wipe your tears and toughen up. I am often told, “Superstar, you have to be tough, okay?” Sometimes I certainly feel like a helpless soul rather than a ‘superstar’.

Sleepless nights and bad dreams become the order of the day. Completing assignments and studying “dodge-the-bullet” lessons become the norm.

Since January 2019 there have been 200 murders in Jamaica. Whether ‘here’ or ‘there’, students and their teachers are threatened. May our classrooms be places of peace and concord, places where we teach our students powerful peaceful structures of community that challenge the status quo, places where freedom and space reign and students learn the habits of the revolutionary mind and heart, places where it is not money or prestige that are their future but growth and contribution and meaning-making.

The assignment was shared by Saran Stewart, PhD, who is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of the West Indies, Mona.