What's So Patriotic About Peace?

BY PATTRICE JONES
01.02.2006 | ACTIVISM

Grey rain hangs in the sky. Translucent drops splash on the blacktop, sluicing like a summer thunderstorm on this Christmas Day. I gaze with glazed eyes at the glassy surface of the water until the blare of a car horn blasts me back into my body. Heart pumping, I wave weakly. I'm cold and wet.

Six of us stand in a line with picket signs. One of the signs says HONK FOR PEACE.

The Peace Alliance of the Lower Shore (PALS) has moved its weekly vigil to noon in hopes of catching churchgoers after Christmas mass. Not being Christian, I don't have anything better to do, so I drag myself out of my warm house and along miles of rural roadways to stand at an intersection of the small city that calls itself "the crossroads of the Delmarva."

"Thought you might need some help today," I say after selecting a sign that says MOTHERS MOURN ON BOTH SIDES.

"Yes," says Jackie Fritch in her jolly red sweatsuit, juggling an American flag along with her sign, "we do."

Not sure where all of this is happening? Go to DC. Drive east until you hit the Chesapeake Bay. Cross the bay. Drive south to Salisbury. If you come on Sunday, you'll see the PALS standing in line with their signs, urging you to HONK FOR PEACE.

The PALS are Unitarians, mostly. They believe, as the sign carried by the woman in the bright blue rain boots says, that PEACE IS PATRIOTIC. I don't agree. I'm pretty sure that governments always carry guns.

Jackie's sign says SUPPORT THE TROOPS and urges us to BRING THEM HOME. I don't support the troops. I don't even support Cindy Sheehan. Any literate person who joined the military after the invasion of Iraq, unless he or she had no other way to buy groceries, is complicit in US crimes against humanity. I want the US out of Iraq but I'm not so eager to see the soldiers return. I wonder what the torturers of Abu Ghraib and the snipers of Fallujah will think they have the right to do when they get home. Waterboard their wives? Shoot down anybody who lives in a house they would like to occupy?

I keep such thoughts to myself. I resist the urge to make my own sign. The PALS would not approve of any of the wry, snide things I'd like to say on this Christmas day.

But these PALS are my tribe, I realize. I've been an existentialist since age 17, when I realized that "existence precedes essense" means "you are what you do." And here we are together. We're the ones who stand in the rain, asking people to HONK FOR PEACE.

Some people do honk, waving and grinning in their Santa caps as gaily wrapped presents bounce on their back seats. Others drive by quickly, eyes straight ahead, gripping their steering wheels tightly. Either way, I wonder what they think of our bedraggled line of rain-drenched signs.

Here, where even the children instinctively sneer at anything different or new, symbolic actions like vigils and picket lines still have the shock value that big-city protest marches lost long ago. Like us or not, the people driving by can't not notice us.

My own mind wanders then gets stuck. At a silent vigil, there's nothing to do but brood. Luckily, I'm good at that. Three years ago, vigil musings led to an essay--"Who Would Jesus Kill?"--that ended up in publications ranging from a major Pakistani newspaper to a little Hawaiian newsletter.

Three years ago?!? How long has this vigil been going on? How long has this war been going on? Was there ever a time when I wasn't standing on some street corner with clean needles, vegetarian literature, or a picket sign? What time is it? Why do I always forget gloves? When will we be allowed to go home?

Before I start to feel sorry for myself, I remember: My home hasn't been bombed. My t-shirt, flannel shirt, and sweater are torn but they're keeping me warm. My cheap vegan shoes (hope they weren't made in a sweatshop) are keeping out the rain. There's food at home and I'm not in a cage.

Driving home, I see 30 wild turkeys hiding out from hunters amidst hundreds of geese. The gawky yet graceful black turkeys flutter and move more deeply between the geese when I scare them by stopping to stare.

The geese, they honk for peace.

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