Christie Shary

Traveler's Tales - Let there be Peace on Earth

Let there be Peace on Earth

I dread it every time. Once more returning from abroad, I force myself to go to the Dana Point post Office to pick up my mail, which is on hold.

As usual, the lines are long and tedious. Tempers are short and jagged. A young man in jogging shorts cuts in front of a woman holding two children by the hands, another in a shoulder carrier, and grabs a number from the dispenser before she can get her hand up to it. Two women argue as to who is first to use the postage scale. A black man with dreadlocks balances of pile of packages, which are about to topple over, and no one offers to help him, even when one tumbles to the floor.

Taking a number from the yellow dispenser, I study the portrait of the postal carrier on the wall who was slain by a coworker several years earlier. The words stretched across the wall beneath it draw me in.

"Imagine all the people living life in peace . . . " I read out loud, secretly hoping that some of the customers next to me will hear my words and actually think about them.

I don't think they do, and I shake my head and look around the lobby. Like most of the worlds four-plus billion inhabitants, I doubt that world peace is really possible.

But then I think of my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, and deep in the heart of Asia. Here Muslim women cloaked in dark veils which act them from the outside world and act like portable saunas in the intense tropical heat, carry shopping bags down the chuck-hole riddled road. Alongside them are Indian women draped in orange, yellow and fuchsia saris spun with golden thread. The veiled women say nothing, but merely follow their turbaned husbands through the cobbled alleyways filled with bicycles and motor scooters.

Many Chinese hawkers hold curried fish heads over steaming cooking pots, while others display fake Rolex watches and Polo shirts, rice bowls and porcelain chopsticks, all in stalls that spring up in the evening. On the other side of the street, members of the British cricket club, who are dressed in white, skirt across the manicured green lawns against the backdrop of Tudor-style buildings, set against the backdrop of tallest office tower in the world.

So diverse are the sights and sound of Malaysia. Yet at the same time I sense a united spirit within this city of Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists. A city sprinkled with onion-domed, marble-floored mosques where the faithful gather to pray five times each day when the muezzin calls from far atop the minarets. It is a city of intricately-molded temples decorated with life-size ceramic figures depicting Hindu gods and goddesses. Their interiors are filled with offerings of fresh flower leis, tropical fruits and coins. Incense-filled Buddhist shrines and temples with golden smiling Buddhas sit atop altars and monks dressed in bright orange robes chant before them. Steepled Christian churches also exist in this religious menagerie, flanked with bell towers and Bible-laden pews.

Still, what surprises me the most is the aura of peace connecting these religious sanctuaries; a peace that also seems to infiltrate the people of Juala Lumpur. To me, this country represents a 'melting pot' of different cultures, much like my homeland is based upon. Yet here is seems like a symphony orchestra, composed of many different sections which all blend together to form a harmonious whole. Just as each musical instrument in an orchestra is unique, it still contributes to the orchestra's whole. In Kuala Lumpur each of its citizens fulfill his or her own unique part in this 'symphony of society,' yet they still contribute to its whole. Its end product? What appears to be to be a 'perfect symphony' of peace and harmony; one of all peoples working and living together.

"Next," I hear the postal clerk calls. My mind comes back to the line and I notice my number glowing on the screen above me. As I approach the counter, I see an old lady burdened with several large packages leaning against the wall, her face pale. I stop, press my number in her hand, and take another from the dispenser.

"I believe it's your turn," I tell her. She smiles at me gratefully and moves toward the counter, her tired feet shuffling across the floor.

On my way from the building forty-five minutes later, I actually find myself feeling refreshed, hopeful. I recite the words of the song Father Bernard always began his Easter and Christmas mass with.

"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."