In the past twenty or so years, the world has seen some truly monumental changes that we, as a generation, haven’t even begun to process.
When we were children, there was certainty in everything that we did. It was a life that we would call normal. We woke up. We went to school. We were bullied, sometimes. We hated maths, hated chores and loathed exams. We played, went to church, watched cartoons on TV from 4:00 pm and ran amock in the neighbourhood and cried when we were punished for one thing or the other. There was a rhythm to everything we did, a beat we danced to.
But, suddenly, the beat changed and everything was upside down. I don’t know if it started when we were entering the new millennium. There was an excitement, yes – no more writing nineteen ninety-something – but there was also fear. No one knew what the new century would bring. Many believed that since it had been 2000 years since Christ’s death, he would return on the day and with Him, judgement for the sinners.
The adults talked about the turn of the century a lot. The new millennium was the topic of conversation. They were scared, though they didn’t want to show us. Adulthood is about faking strength in the face of unimaginable fear. I remember a church that held overnight prayers to wait for Jesus to come and take them home, only for the day to dawn with no Jesus in sight.
From the bombing of the World Trade Centre on 9/11 to the financial collapse of 2007/2008 and multiple people preaching about the end of the world. From the analogue days to the proliferation of the internet in every aspect of our lives, we are the generation that has faced the most upheaval, and the most change. We like to joke about the fact that we had the best of both worlds but did we? Have we known any peace at all amidst the upheaval?
I have a theory. It might not be accurate it may not even be true, but it is something I think about often. I think that millennials adopted the peace sign and owned it because, from 2000 and beyond, there wasn’t too much peace in the face of the turmoil we faced. You can tell a millennial in a photo by the peace sign they throw up.
Funny story, we didn’t invent the peace sign. The original symbol was designed by graphic artist, Gerald Holtom, in February 1958 to be used as a symbol against nuclear weapons. The symbol then evolved to a sign made by holding the palm outward and forming a V with the index and middle fingers. And photo after photo, smiling wildly into the camera, a bunch of us hold up this V. My theory is that our desire for peace has made sure that we would unconsciously form the V in every photo that would be public.
I first saw this peace sign in the photos my big brother took while still in school. He was skinny then, wearing clothes that were too big for him and yet were considered the cool thing to wear in the noughties. The photo was a row of 10 boys all trying desperately to look cool. All of them threw up the peace sign. Maybe they needed peace from the internal turmoil they faced at being a teenage boy trying to survive high school. Not long after that photo was taken, the Teso College boys rioted and my brother, with a broken arm then, had to drag his suitcase to the buses as the police hit any and everyone they could find. Peace.
And then there is me. I am not comfortable in front of a camera, never have been. I am smiley, yes. But when I hear the click of a camera and I have to perform, the corners of my mouth give out and start to hurt, and I start to count down the minutes until the camera stops clicking. Inevitably, my hands go up and I find myself with the peace sign, perhaps wishing for inner peace as I perform happiness in front of the camera. I am much more comfortable behind the camera.
But the pursuit of peace is what we are all killing ourselves for. We are running ourselves ragged, trying to find both inner and outer peace. Our pursuit of money and material things is a pursuit of peace. We are burnt out, living through crisis after crisis, trying to centre ourselves. We are not the protagonists in our own stories. If we were, we would go through the hero’s journey, finding peace at the end of it all. Our times, these times, are unprecedented. We have fought through a global pandemic, are fighting through Climate Change and are going through it, trying to find the peace we had we were children.
Perhaps our throwing up the peace sign is a way to show this deep-seated desire to find peace. And on that note, peace out.