The holidays are in full swing.
Christmas tree farms are popping up on every corner, it’s socially acceptable to have all of your pre-set radio stations programmed to Christmas carols, and eggnog is a staple item in the fridge.
Of course, all of those things are only materials of the season. The true meaning of Christmas is a reminder of hope, love, compassion and peace.
A message of peace is one that we can all agree our world desperately needs. To help spread the message, the Paper and Packaging—How Life Unfolds campaign set out to find people across America who had endured unimaginable trauma and cruelty.
What they found were survivors. Survivors of horrific terrorist attacks, human trafficking and school shootings. One survivor had endured relentless bullying her entire youth, and another lost a brother by suicide after years of cyber-bullying.
Each of the five survivors were asked to share their story by writing a one-page letter to the world, detailing their experience of trauma, pain and forgiveness.
This powerful and emotional video captures their message of peace.
What these survivors lived through is completely unimaginable. They’re the stories that we hear on the news and selfishly think, “Thank God that isn’t my situation.” Their experiences were life-altering, devastating and traumatizing.
Despite violence and cruelty, their stories inspire an incredible message of peace.
From the age of 16, Asia Graves was sold in U.S. cities along the East Coast. Though she escaped when she was 18, and even worked with the FBI to bring justice to many of her attackers, the trauma remained.
In her letter she writes:
“I always thought that no person on this planet would ever love me and that I was worthless in the eyes of everyone around me. But when I started to love myself, flaws and all, I was able to recognize the love and compassion in others.”
Heather Egeland was one of the incredibly lucky students who survived the 1999 shooting at Columbine High school. After preparing to die alongside her classmates, and then losing 12 of them and a beloved teacher, she experienced depression and grief for years.
“I believe that if we took the time to notice, we’d see we’re infinitely more connected by our similarities than divided by our differences,” she writes. “The truth is none of us are alone. All we have to do is take notice.”
It was remembering that our world and our lives are interconnected that helped her overcome.
Jody Blanco was bullied relentlessly as a child simply for being different. Through reflection and forgiveness, she’s found peace, and even learned how to welcome those people back into her life. She writes, “I learned the ability to forgive is the greatest gift you can give yourself and others. If there’s a painful memory you can’t erase, instead of letting it consume you, turn your pain into purpose.”
Like Jodee, Cliff Molak understands the traumatizing effects of bullying. His younger brother David died by suicide to escape cyberbullying. “The only way to end suffering in this nation…is not to highlight differences between groups of people, but to focus on the importance of accountability and character.”
He says, “God’s gifted me strength on purpose.”
In 2013, Patrick Downes was at the finish line of the Boston marathon with his wife when the first bomb exploded. He lost his leg. Many would expect Patrick to hold tight to bitterness and hatred, but his letter professes just the opposite. He embodies the message of peace.
“Some might say that we in Boston were victims of violence, but I see us as ambassadors for peace,” he writes. “The smallest and largest signs of peace send a message that peaceful and caring societies will always triumph over those who attempt to break us apart.”
Patrick ends his letter with the profound statement: “Hate will always fall victim to love. My town, family, wife and I choose love.”