We adults have pretty well made a mess of things, haven’t we?
All the discord and disinformation we have foisted upon the world? The deranged leaders we have let get away with murder, or nearly so? The damage, perhaps permanent, to the planet? The dissolution, perhaps permanent, to peace?
I think of the young people just starting out, the children who will inherit all this, and I worry that they see the future darkly.
And then I meet a kid like Jack O and things don’t look so dismal. Because he doesn’t see things so dismally.
Jack, 14 and an eighth grader at Roosevelt Middle School in Tijeras, is one of 23 young artists selected from more than 600,000 participants worldwide as a merit winner in the annual Lions Club International Peace Poster Contest.
With the contest theme of “We Are All Connected,” Jack’s work features an astronaut floating in the vast, starry space tethered to balloons and small international flags as he looks toward the Earth cradled in brightly colored swaths of larger flags from different countries.
“One of mankind’s greatest achievements is interstellar travel, and while the first man on the moon spoke for one country, it took the ideas and concepts of many to get him there,” Jack wrote in his accompanying essay.
Jack said he also wanted to convey the contrast between the dark void of space and the brilliance of planet Earth.
“We together are the light,” he said.
Jack, who was sponsored by the Sandia Mountain Lions Club, received a $500 cash prize for his poster. But perhaps even more rewarding is how through his art Jack is able to spread his message for peace and have it be heard, including by us old folks.
“Peace, at least to me, is when people come together to accomplish something. Even if it is not in their own self interest, the goal of moving forward with their peers is enough,” he wrote in his essay. “I frequently hear the argument that peace is the absence of war, and I wish this were true. However, we are people, and people look out for themselves. I feel it is not until we can push past our individual desires, even for a little while, that we can truly come together as people, and as a planet, for peace.”
Jack, his proud mother said, has always loved to draw, to debate and, most recently, to sing and act. Still, it comes as a pleasant surprise that his first big honor is a call for peace.
“He likes to express emotions. He likes to make a point,” said Regina O. “He’s very empathetic, he’s engaged, and what I am most proud of is if he sees a kid who is not OK he will go up and help that kid.”
But lest you think Jack is always a serious, sensitive guy, his mother disabuses us of that notion.
“He’s a goofball,” she said. “You cannot embarrass him. His language arts teacher has told me many times of his taking over the class for ‘Jack’s Story Time.'”
Well, he certainly has one now.
“I was sort of in shock for the first few hours after I was told I won,” he said. “I’ve always thought of art as a hobby, not a career. But it’s a good way to express yourself.”
To us older folks, he expresses this advice: “Push aside the differences and grudges. Hit the refresh button and move past all this.”
Still, he said, he’s pragmatic about the chances for peace, especially now as war rages in Ukraine and threatens the globe. He completed his poster last fall long before that war broke, but he believes that what Ukraine and its allies are fighting for is peace.
“I like to be optimistic. I try to be, anyway. But on occasion it’s not an easy thing. It is sometimes hard to focus on good things,” he said. “I don’t see realistically a world where there is peace. It may take a few decades to get there. It’s not going to happen soon. I hope eventually we can come together.”
By then, he and his generation will be in charge. Let’s hope they do better than we did.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org.