Sunday, October 24, 2010

A day in the life, gratitude for the small things

As we stood on the pier with our peace leaflets and peace signs, members of the public lined up to tour the navy battleship. It was the summer of 1998 in Duluth, Minnesota and the tradition was that the ship docked in Duluth for a week or two in order to recruit and we gathered to counter-recruit. That particular year was my favorite because my eldest son was living with me again after his own years away, first in the navy himself and then in Pennsylvania and then Michigan, working as a salesman.

Cleve is not an activist. He's just a guy. He's a very smart man--the kid started reading Greek mythology for fun when he was nine. And he's funny--his spontaneous mirth bursts out on its own and always has. He's amazingly athletic--he also started lifting weights when he was nine, just because. He went on to be a track and football star in high school, setting state records in Wisconsin. He joined the navy eventually after partying his way out of a college football scholarship, finding his biological Dad, and feeling like a failure. The navy was not a good four years for him. But his natural goodness, strength, intelligence and balance won out in the end, and I was enjoying his time back in my home.

So when I told him we were going to meet the navy recruiting ship, I didn't expect him to show up. That was never his thing. But there he was, standing with us, a tiny group opposing the invasion of the US navy. The entire dock was devoted to the ship--Catholic Worker Erik Torch called it coming to worship the warship. People lined up to take the tour. We were smaller than a minority. We were a microminority.
One of our members, Donna Howard, was standing with a sign that had some spiritual message about the nonviolent Jesus. As one man was about to board the ship, he shoved her, hard, and she staggered back. The man dashed up the gangplank and then leaned over the side of the warship, big guns bristling behind him and above him, and yelled triumphantly, "Didn't Jesus say an eye for an eye?!"

We just gaped. How do you respond to such profound brainwashing and heart damage? Well, no, actually, sir, he said that was the old way and he was bringing a new way. Um, you might want to skip forward out of the Old Testament to the new part and review it a bit.

Cleve and I still laugh about it. He is African American and he has dealt with the depths of ignorance in our nation and he still loves it. He sees the worst sides of people and shakes it off, always eventually coming back to his natural joy in life. He's never been particularly nonviolent, but he's always been generous and never cruel. When dealing with threats, he's met them with such good humor and self-confidence that he wins more friends every time he is in conflict.

Our work is forever. We all have life sentences if we wish to bring more peace, more hope, and more nonviolence into our world. Each of these days out in the fields of peacework brings its lessons and its memories, all as precious as the people there. Cleve is good, Donna is doing wonderful work, Erik has a young family, and I hope the angry man who so radically misunderstood the message of Jesus has also learned something since our moment together.

I give thanks for them all.

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