Valley People for Peace
Does all this vigiling matter? Its the same question, frequently asked of us. But its dressed in different tones. Sometimes its skeptical and challenging. Often its just plain confused or exasperated. Maybe its curious: what are passersby thinking and saying to you? At other times its tentative and hopeful. And when we are honest with ourselves, it is our question too.
Under any circumstances, it puts the definition of success up for grabs.
Im reminded of what Tom Ashbrook said on his evening talk show on WBUR right after we invaded Iraq. I know he was trying to goad responses from callers, but I think he believed it himself: Dont you think this invasion shows that the whole peace movement was a failure? It had no ground to stand on practically speaking, and so it now should fold up its tent and let things play out. This, just days after the invasion.
Of course, tent folding is not an option, except perhaps for those who invest in the instant gratification promise of our society. So, our flags still fly over the camp we pitched in front of Old Town Hall on March 19, 2003 as do Mary Kates and Arthurs signs at Raytheon, and those of the Shawsheen vigilers and others in Merrimack Valley, for longer than that.
Reality is kaleidoscopic when viewed through the prism of a vigil. Just when you think youve heard it or seen it all, along comes a new and different visit, comment, or gesture to surprise, hurt, uplift, confound, bemuse, depress, confirm, or confuse you. True, many of the clear responses have been positive from the beginning, and they run close to 90+% every day now. Some just double us over in laughter: Hey, if it wasnt for Iraq, we wouldnt be there!
But the negatives can be downright ugly and devastating: I know what the bottom line is for you. The Jews caused it all. Thats about it! Whats even more perplexing are the numbers of people who stare right at you with no discernible expression whatsoever. The ranks of sleepwalkers through history may be more numerous than Sen. Robert Byrd could ever imagine.
Yet, so many (more
with every month) are not in denial. The children in the back seats arent.
They almost always wave and smile. (Mothers in Market Basket
tell us their kids ask to get out and join us.) Veterans are awake too.
Typical is the one who served 22 years, the son of a Korean vet and nephew
of a World War II vet, who said he thought we were dead wrong from the
outset, but now he supports us. Why the change? Abu Ghraib. What
we did there. Thats not what my father, my uncle, and I stood and
On a recent night, a van pulled up to the dark curbside in front of me. The driver reached over and rolled down the passengers window, and called out: I pass by a lot and see you always here. I have something I think you should have. I got it once in an antique store, and I really think it should belong to you and your group. He handed me a wooden figure and quickly drove away. I held up the object to see what it was: a carving of a right hand, about 6 tall, fashioned into the V sign of peace.
But stories only hint at what these vigils may mean. Weather of all kinds adds texture--the brutal sub-zero air; a windswept, summer rain; the take-your-breath-away silence of full moons; early, sap-flowing, spring warmth. Extended conversations among ourselves and with strangers intensify and expand our mutual support and awareness. It is common for people to approach us more freely now, linger awhile, and share in a space where it feels safe for them to be. What may have started for us as acts of a relatively silent witness for peace has evolved into mutual choices to risk for new relationships and deeper understandings of ourselves, others, and the world.
But these vigils? Do you think they do any good?
They havent yet curtailed the imperial U.S. juggernaught, have they? And we will probably never find any meaningful quantifiable measures of their impact. Yes, it is wonderful to hear, as we often do, that somebody we never knew has noticed us and somehow taken heart from what she saw. If we were unaware of that person until now, how many others might be out there like her, sympathetic but silent strangers to us? Well never know, and it is not worth speculating, because success as American culture promotes it was not our goal in the first place.
The true meaning of each vigil is perceived through the prism of the heart. I believe what some blessed soul (Mother Teresa? Dorothy Day?) once said: that we are called to be faithful, not necessarily successful. Vigils dont represent ordinary human behavior. They encourage and permit us to witness publicly to something of value outside of ourselves. They are acts of imagination, affirmations of hope, expressions of resistance to the prevailing temporal powers and historical trends. They tell us to wake up and pay attention. They enable me to stand free and open. They evoke all my relations. They keep me grounded and sane. Sometimes they impel me to risk into a better way, somewhere else in my life. And, who knows where, they just may spark the beginnings of some of these same possibilities for another person.
Paradoxically, at the level of mystery, we do know this. From the heart and through the spirit, transforming work gets done and carries on. A teacher rarely knows if he or she has had any lasting impact on a student. But as Schweitzer once said, All work that is worth anything is done in faith.
Revolution, they say,
is of the spirit, or not at all.
People for Peace meets monthly, on the fourth Tuesday,
Merrimack Valley People for Peace (978) 685-1389
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