Montreal. 1969. A lifetime ago, or yesterday, depending on your point of view. John Lennon had just married Yoko Ono, and for their honeymoon they invited the press to hang out by their bedside while they sang about peace. Not my idea of a romantic honeymoon, but hey, I’m not burdened by the responsibility of being famous during a time of war. Of having to decide whether or not to use my influence to fight for what I believe in. It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. On my way up or down the stairs to the basement, I find myself pausing to look at the two pictures that hang on the landing, reflecting on this moment in the history of the world—and this moment in the history of my family.
The man holding the camera is my great uncle, George Cree. For decades he was a photographer for the Montreal Gazette, and his lens captured many significant moments in Canadian history: Famous faces, royal visits, all kinds of political strife and upheaval—and the time a musician and his new bride laid in bed to promote peace. My Uncle Geordie went into that room in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel to cover John and Yoko’s Bed-In. He came out with photographs that would be a highlight of his career, and a pen drawing casually scribbled by Lennon and handed to my uncle, almost as an afterthought. I doubt he had any idea how much that little drawing would mean to my uncle. To my whole family.
Give Peace a Chance.
For many this sentiment is a quaint, impossible dream … a naiveté. For others it’s a reason to go on when the darkness closes in. For me it’s a wish—blind or otherwise—that my children will live in a world where equality and kindness prevail. It’s a prayer that my daughter will never be discriminated against for her gender, that my son will feel safe wearing a Kippah upon his head. That I will one day not feel a thrill of fear by this kind of public admission of my family’s Judaism. That my children will live to raise the next generation, so that they may raise the next, and the next, and so on ad infinitum.
I often pause on the landing that leads down to my basement to spend a moment with my uncle, who was hilarious and gentle and kind. He is the first person I notice in that photo, not the man with the guitar. More and more I think about the things my uncle saw with his eyes and through his lens. I think about how he dropped out of school during The Depression, how he was a tail gunner with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, how he was a witness to history, both the good and the bad.
History. It’s not long before my gaze travels to the man with the guitar. He used his voice to mobilize those who were sleeping, because he believed that peace was more than an abstract concept or a pie-in-the-sky wish. And it occurs to me that, like everything in life, there is no way to make your wishes a reality unless you’re willing to mobilize. My voice doesn’t need to reach millions to make a valuable contribution. If it reaches just one, it can make a difference. And so I pause on the landing to ponder. What will my contribution be?