After watching a video clip of armed people swarming the U.S. Capitol, breaking windows, and rampaging through halls and offices, I heard John Lennon’s lyrics repeat like a mantra in my head. “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
I remembered a tense protest against the Vietnam War in Washington DC in October 1967. We walked from the Lincoln Memorial to the Pentagon where young soldiers with guns stood at attention surrounding the buildings. Vic and I got a whiff of tear gas, but didn’t get close enough to feel the burn. We were interested in peace, not violence—and we were afraid.
By the end of that day in 1967, 700 people were arrested for civil disobedience. About a dozen unarmed protestors got inside the Pentagon doors, but were swiftly arrested and removed. No one was killed.
How can I forget the January 6, 2021 images of people climbing the US Capital walls carrying weapons and wrapped in American flags? Is this my country? Are we choosing this? Our history has been bloody and cruel from the beginning, but the Gates of Hell feel wide open now. What will we do with images and proof we can no longer deny?
On January 7, still in a state of disbelief, I walk under the tallest oak trees in my forest. The lyrics repeat in my head: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” I go to my husband Vic’s cairn and pray. “Please, Divine Mother of the Forest. Help us choose peace. Help us stay calm.”
When Vic died in June 2008, I walked with grief many times a day. I noticed the beauty of every wildflower, butterfly, tree, and bird. I gave thanks for love and life, as I wept for what was gone.
This week, I walk with grief again, this time in bleak winter, but green moss thrives under the snow and water gurgles over icy rocks. Small signs of life bring glimmers of hope while I grieve for the rage and betrayal that pollutes my country.
During this agitated time, the forest is my chapel. I walk under old trees protected by a conservation easement, knowing they’ll never be logged, even after I die. Their massive trunks and sky-touching branches calm me.
I lean into the massive trunk of a Red Oak and lay my head against her bark.
“Save us, Mother Oak. Show us the way of peace even if we don’t deserve it. Save us from ourselves.”
How have you survived this tense period? There are so many disheartening issues from covid-19 to insurrection to alarming inequality. As I write this, the new inauguration site is being set up, more like an armed camp than the celebration I hoped for. I hope there won’t be more violence and pray we are entering a period of positive transformation.
For an article about peaceful protest, see Give Hope a Seat between Anxiety and Grief: Women’s March on Washington. For an article about the power of peaceful protest and witnessing for human rights and justice (2018), see The Power of Witnessing: Lessons from Quakers and from Life.