For years, I produced and sold a line of hand-carved raku pottery tiles. One of the most popular designs was this one:

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 Hundreds of tiles later, I still believe those words are true. But despite the fact that I always considered myself a very peaceable person — I mean, how could I be otherwise with a Quaker background and a cool peacemonger.com sticker on my car bumper, right? — I somehow got off on the wrong foot with our new elderly neighbor.

Maybe I was grumpy because her new home construction, adjacent to my garden plot, delayed spring planting by two critical months. And maybe I would use a gentler tone of voice, addressing my own relatives, than she uses to address hers. Then there was my tendency to take sides in some mild, business-related friction involving a family member. Whatever the causes, inconsequential as they may have been, I didn’t make any effort to bridge the gap. I just went about my business, and weeks went by.

Then, a few mornings ago, I was happily picking okra and tomatoes in the garden plot and I was in the state of peaceful well-being every gardenlover knows. Suddenly I felt a sharp pang of shame: I could carve peace platitudes into my artwork and advertise peace from my car bumper, but I had done nothing to promote peace where it begins: not between nations, but between neighbors.

I selected my biggest, ripest Ambrosia melon and cut an armload of mixed sunflowers. Five minutes later, when my neighbor opened her front door, astonishment and delight were written all over her face. Her profuse thanks — then, and again in a lovely email that arrived later that afternoon — seemed much too generous for such a modest gift. Why didn’t I do this weeks ago? It was a small gesture, but already the harvest has yielded a new friend.

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

  • Lao Tzu (570-490 B.C.)