A cloak of sadness hangs heavy on my shoulders. It drapes to the very roots of my being. Approaching 70, in many ways I have every reason not to be sad. I am grateful to be still physically strong, energetic ,and vibrant. I have not lost much muscle mass, my mental and emotional faculties are still intact, I have a beautiful, intelligent daughter, doing well in college. My finances aren’t that great but I have plenty to eat, a roof over my head, my daughter has earned almost a complete scholarship at one of the best schools in the country, I have a dog and two cats; my girlfriend, also a dedicated activist, loves me; I have wonderful friends. Why on earth does this sadness permeate every cell in my being? Why can I never escape from it?
A dear friend asked me two days ago what I would like for my birthday. This friend and her partner, both also social activists, are extremely generous and have means. They have helped often in times of need. Lately I have been on the edge of poverty, as have many in these perilous economic times when the countries wealth is being diverted to wars and Wall Street. I knew I could ask for almost anything within reason and they would probably fulfill that wish. I could think of nothing that would ease even temporarily this sadness. After a while, I said with some resignation, “peace of mind.”
Peace, how deeply we all long for it. Yet everywhere we look it seems there is suffering. The makers of war, our corporate-controlled and permeated government and its minions, prosper and thrive in a lust for power and dominance; some obtain unimaginable, obscene wealth while millions starve and die because of their policies.
Another friend, Mike Ferner, president of Veterans For Peace and a former Navy medic during the Vietnam war, just came back from three weeks observing the situation in Afghanistan. He says, “Afghanistan’s people need food not bombs, health care not warfare and courage for peace, not war.” When I look at Mike, in his grieving eyes I see the same sadness that infects my soul.
A month ago, on Dec. 16, on a cold, snowy day in Washington, D.C., Mike and I got arrested, dragged away, from the White House fence where we and 129 others (also arrested that day in a veteran-led civil resistance) were demanding an immediate end to the U.S. policy of endless war. Of course the President didn’t listen to us—when has a president ever really listened to the people?
On that day, the President was rather calmly speaking to the press about the “progress” we are making in Afghanistan. As he told lie after lie inside the warmth and comfort of the White House, we stood outside in the cold and snow for hours. Yet on that day, with feet and hands becoming numb, my sorrow ceased for a time. With my brothers and sisters, united in our resistance to war, hypocrisy, and lies, there was a feeling of great solidarity, which at least for a time seemed to erase this oppressive sadness. We stood and got arrested for a commitment to truth, peace, and humanity.
Prior to a slow and solemn march to the White House, where we climbed over police barricades to stand on the concrete footwall of the surrounding cold metal fence, Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg, and others spoke at the rally in Lafayette Park. They spoke of the necessity of civil resistance, and about a young man, Bradley Manning, in oppressive, soul-crushing solitary confinement for eight months now, accused of exposing the lies and the brutality of U.S. wars and occupations. We stood in solidarity with the Bradley Mannings of this world, with the courage of WikiLeaks director Julian Assange, and all those suffering and resisting our corporate-permeated and controlled government’s murderous policies.
We were cold but warmed, empowered by the righteousness of what we were doing, and for a short time I was relieved of this sense of sadness that now seems to never leave me.
Chris Hedges wrote, “There is in our sorrow—for who cannot be profoundly sorrowful?—finally a balm that leads to wisdom and, if not joy, then a strange, transcendent happiness. To stand in a park on a cold December morning, to defy that which we must defy, to do this with others, brings us solace, and perhaps even peace.”
Illness, old age, death and natural disasters will always be part of our existence, and we need to learn to live and accept it with as much dignity and poise as possible, but the wars, the greed, the lusting for power by the few over the many, this is what must never be accepted. For peace of mind, for the sake of being human, for the children, for our planet, this needs to be resisted with every fiber of our being. You, dear reader, may have another path to peace, but for myself, only when I am conscious of being in solidarity with the others, resisting and trying to ease the suffering, do I find peace.
Veterans For Peace