Friday, May 15, 2009

Here's what happened

I'm on the bus at 5:59 p.m. when my phone gongs. I jump, as I do every night, startled by the sound, forgetting momentarily: It's time to stand for peace. We're less than a minute from the next stop, so I wait and get off the bus. It happens to be one of San Francisco's busiest intersections.

There's no good place to stand where my back can be against a wall, so I face the traffic. I feel vulnerable. I like a wall against my back. Cars, bicycles, people! So much rush-rush. It's Friday night, and we're all in a hurry to get to wherever.

Rush-rush. I forget the wind whipping my hair into my eyes, nostrils, across my mouth. I, the crowd-phobe, am happy in the midst of all this bustle. I feel the Buddha smile on my face. Before I know it, the gong sounds on my phone, signaling my five minutes is up. Have I learned anything new tonight? No matter. It is a gorgeous evening, and I am going to walk home.

Three blocks later, waiting to cross another of San Francisco's ultra-busy intersections, I see this sign: Learn Peace. Four or five people are holding signs: Embrace Peace. Make Peace. Peace not war. I'm suddenly in the Sixties again. No wait! That's me! I stand for peace! These people are standing for peace. I ask the guy holding the sign if I can take a picture of it. Sure! Would he mind if I joined them for a bit? Sure! There's more signs over there if you'd like one.

I pick up a sign that says simply, Peace, and join the others on the corner. I lift the sign and smile to see that the other side says Teach. Back and forth, I wag my sign. Teach. Peace. Teach. Peace.

Drivers honk and give us the thumbs up. One waves the two-fingered peace sign through the sun roof of his Beamer. More people show up, grab signs. Kat introduces herself. She's carrying a clipboard. She and Dave, the guy with the Learn Peace sign, wanted to do something, so they started this vigil. Every third Friday of the month, they stand on this corner from 6-8 p.m. Other people show up. Some of them sign up for an e-mail reminder. No pressure. That's what the clip board is for, if I'm interested. Folks come and stand for as long as they're comfortable. That woman over there is another Kate. She knows lots of people in lots of organizations working for peace. That woman, Susan, on the bicycle, is pretty new. She just started showing up.

Kat, Dave, Kate, Susan and another guy whose name I didn't get are all fiftyish-sixtyish, like me. There are a couple of young people sitting against a tree, holding signs.

Susan introduces herself to me. We exchange a few pleasantries, then silence. I remember my stand the other night--that I don't know my neighbors, that I need to work again at overcoming my shyness. I'm not very good at making conversation, I tell Susan. I realize I should ask you something like, where do you work. That's all it takes. She's not that interested in telling me about her work, but she is excited about taking small actions like this one. She's been to a few others. What's most on her mind is the East Bay event a couple of weeks ago where she heard Alice Walker. She's my favorite author, she says. So. Imagine that. I now know another person who loves Alice Walker's writings as much as I do.

More people come and take up signs. Susan takes off on her bike. I give gratitude for every driver who encourages us with their horns and shouts for peace. I give gratitude for each of the people here, coming out to stand, not part of any organization, just standing for peace. Wait! Dolores introduces herself, hands me a brochure. She's part of Iraq Moratorium. I've never heard of them, but I'll look them up online this weekend, I tell her. She has gorgeous white hair. I love older people with a sense of purpose and commitment, who haven't given up despite all we've seen, don't you?

My stomach growls. My feet hurt. I take Kat at her word. People come and go during the two hours as meets their needs. I trek home, leaving behind about twice as many people standing for peace as were there when I first spotted them.

That's what happened on my sixth night of standing for peace. I feel like the Village of Ordinary is all around me. What do you think?


  1. Oh, this is a delightful, wonderful story! I'm so happy to hear this. Happy for you, happy for the multitudes that are growing in our desire for peace. Once a month in our Wednesday night meditation circle we read Peace Prayers from 12 religions around the world (they come from James Twyman, Peace Troubador)and then sit in silence. I've heard these prayers monthly for years now. On Wednesday, it was as if each one were new. I felt the growing wave of strength behind each one; African, Janist, Muslin, Sikh,Bhudist,Jewish, etc. I felt the regions of the world, the individuals, the people standing. Bless you. Pamela

  2. Pamela, once again I bow in gratitude for your encouragement and, more importantly, for sharing your experience with all who might stumble upon these pages. I had not heard of James Twyman and have just spent happy minutes reading the peace prayers.

    What would our world be like if every practicing religious were to read these prayers once a week and perhaps our own creed every day? Would it become impossible to hate others for thinking differently than ourselves?

    Pamela, would you be interested in sharing more about your long-term practice and how it has affected your life? If so, I invite you to comment here or, if you would be comfortable, to do a guest post on this blog.


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