Peace as Your Legacy

Do you wish to make the world a better (and more peaceful) place?

Joan Halifax, Abbot of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, writes, “We can nurture peace by transforming our own lives…we must work actively for nonviolence toward all…[nurturing] deep and true dialogue with respect for and appreciation of differences…we all live under each other’s skin.”

Yes, along with inherited legacies, we do live “under each other’s skin.” The video of a brave Ukrainian woman confronting a heavily-armed Russian soldier on a street corner in Henychesk gave my skin chills. She asked what the soldier is doing in Ukraine. He replied, “We have exercises here.” She asked, “What kind of exercises?” and then with emotion, “What the #^&* are you doing on our land with all these guns?” She commanded the Russian soldier to take her sunflower seeds and put them in his pockets so that sunflowers will grow in the soil upon his death in Ukraine.

I am (belatedly) learning Ukrainian history. It includes sunflowers, a legacy symbol of peace for Ukraine. In June, 1996, Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons. Defense ministers from U.S., Russia, and Ukraine joined in planting sunflowers at Pervomaysk missile base. This is significant as Ukraine inherited the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal in the 1991 Soviet Union collapse.

The sunflower is Ukraine’s national flower, however sunflower history predates the country. Sunflowers were nurtured as a crop by indigenous tribes from 3000 BC. First Nation North Americans cultivated sunflowers in present-day Arizona/New Mexico to produce large flowerheads. It is possible that sunflowers were a staple domestic crop before corn! Besides milling sunflowers for flour to bake bread and cooking with sunflower oil, creative uses included turning plant pigments into “sunscreens” and clothing dyes.

Spanish sailors pocketed sunflower seeds for Europe where the seeds migrated to Russia and Ukraine. However, it was the Russian Orthodox Church that elevated sunflowers to prominence. The 18th century Church hierarchy banned foods made from a variety of oils for Lent. Sunflower oil somehow escaped this ban! The demand for sunyashniki, or sunflowers, blossomed into an important commodity. Ukraine and Russia supply 70% of the world’s sunflower oil exports. Sunflower oil ranks as the fourth most important oil crop in the world (after palm, soybean, and rapeseed oil). Who knew?

A legacy is about learning from the past while living in the present moment. A legacy of peace sometimes seems elusive, but there is peace as well as war in our past and present. A Greek proverb reminds, “A society grows great when old [women] and men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Who will be left in Ukraine to plant sunflowers for coming generations?

Who remembers the Ukrainian legacy of peace from 1996?

Gardeners unite. Let us plant sunflowers this spring.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

62. What legacy of peace can you cherish?

63. How might you leave peace as an aspect of your own legacy?   

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


  1. I left a message for my family this morning, that I have an ongoing mantra through out my day of giving thanks as I see no bombed out buildings (as I did in Berlin), and all is intact. I drove my husband to work this morning and had gratitude for not seeing Russian solders with rifles on every corner along the train tracks, as I did in Poland in 1974. I give gratitude for food, a home, utilities, and we are all alive here. I give thanks we did not have to say goodbye to our men going off to war. I was in all those Communist countries traveling by bus and train, got arrested by Russian solders in Poland, and held for other problems at the Berlin Wall. I am so thankful for all that we have. I continue to be politically active for democracy and the values I believe in. My heart aches for those who do not have what I have. My stories, values, and political actions are my children’s legacy. May all of us continue to grow and act for peace.


  2. Thanks for sharing such personal reflections. Crisis points in our lives are legacy-builders. Our journey through life as shown by our values and ALL of our actions become the bricks and mortar of our children’s legacies.


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