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The City of Peace

In a lawless country, where men fought over wells and hid their women, an old man bound his son to a stone altar in the bramble and raised his knife to strike. The son closed his eyes. He heard his heart shudder in his chest. But the knife did not fall.

Later, a king who knew the story built a city there. The king owned a box so holy and so terrible that many of his people would kill themselves rather than go near it. The box had been brought a long way to the lawless country, killing and maiming as it went: drowning armies, spitting fire, blinding and infecting.

The king had the bramble cleared and the box placed on the stone altar, and a great house built around it. Slaves hauled gold and cedar through the dry mountains.

The box stopped its killing, for the mercy of the stone cooled its anger. In the house of the box, the people sang praises and slew cattle until it stank like an abattoir.

Now when the people of the lawless country stood in the city of the house of the box, they felt at peace. Their hearts lifted and sang: Now, at last, I am home. Now I can rest. Now I am forever free.

The city was full of olive oil and wine, singing and dancing. Great towers and domes adorned it. Philosophers discovered great truths, poets’ hearts burned, and holy men came there to die.

Every empire wanted the City of Peace. Great wars were fought at its gates, and many times it was destroyed and rebuilt. And still the inhabitants, looking over their city, felt their hearts fill with serenity.

And whoever was driven from the City of Peace told his children: one day we will return there.

At one time, when the city was old, two nations were at war in the lawless land. They shot and knifed and blew up each other’s children. They leveled homes and burned ambulances. Few of them remembered a time before the war.

The rulers of the two nations were tired of the war. They met in the capital of a great and distant empire. They drew lines on the map of the lawless land. They would divide the wells and the olive groves. They would share the City of Peace.

They went home full of hope.

The next night one of the rulers walked through the gardens of the city. Amidst the dust of the lawless land, the gardens were green and lush, like an emerald set in clay. He heard the children laughing and splashing in the fountains. He felt the holiness of the city fill him up with joy, as a cup is poured full of clear water. And he knew: the war must go on. We must have all of the City of Peace.