It is Christmas Eve, 1914. The First World War is in its fifth month and will last four more years. By the time an armistice is declared in November of 1918, the “war to end all wars” as President Wilson dubbed it, will have claimed 9 million lives.
On December 24, 1914, however, the war is interrupted. History tells us that for 24 hours Allied and German soldiers laid down their arms to celebrate Christmas – together. They left their separate trenches and met in “No Man’s Land” to share food and drink, play ball, sing carols, and bury one another’s dead.
Apparently, the idea was the brainchild of a group of 101 suffragettes who published an article in the press asking the two sides to consider the ceasefire. It was officially ignored as was a letter from Pope Benedict XV asking that the “guns grow silent on the night that angels sing.” It is believed, however, that both actions planted the seeds for the truce.
While there are several different stories of what occurred there that day —some historians claim it was merely a symbolic truce — even if it happened on a very small scale with individual ceasefires along the Western Front, it was still remarkable. An astonishing moment!
Bottom line: the ceasefire provided an interruption from the “normal” hostilities of war, a welcomed day of calm.
For someone as entrenched in family systems theory for the past 30 years as I have been, it is, above all, an example of how we humans are capable of a broad and creative repertoire of behavior to help us deal with difficult circumstances.
Watching the play, All Is Calm, performed by the theatre company, Latté Da, I couldn’t help but think what 24 hours of calm might provide for a family. Any family. My family.
Imagine a 24-hour ceasefire in which historical family upsets, with all their accumulated hostilities, are tabled. Imagine all of us letting go of the anger and the slights — even temporarily —to approach our family members, willing to relate to them as fellow humans. Could we step out of our comfortable positions of triangles, automatic side-taking and have the courage to address each person one-on-one directly with kindness?
At the moment, the prospect of such a ceasefire in my own family, though it strikes me as almost impossible, is front and center on my “to-do” list for the New Year.
What may be a realistic place for me to start is to reconnect one-by-one with each member of my family, trying to engage each one in a REAL conversation.
“What is most important to you?” “What challenges do you face?” “What do you hope for your future?” In other words, taking the time to understand who they really are rather than settling for the “How are you? Fine” chit-chat of brief family gatherings.
It takes time, and it takes work, for sure, though a whole lot easier than achieving a ceasefire on the Western Front. And although the results may not compare in scale, I believe that when it comes to family deep listening, a commitment to understanding, and the acceptance of differences certainly go a long way in healing our world.
Wishing you all a very happy New Year.