The sun was bright and warm along the peace picket line yesterday. Many of the regulars were there. Frances Crowe, the petite 93-year-old grande dame of the peace movement in these parts, showed up with a big smile and a sign she said she hoped would move people out of their comfort zone, a sign that said something like, "Arrest the serial killers in Washington." Usually she is not so loud, but her big smile and long experience gave resonance to what otherwise might have been a somewhat lookit-me-virtuous sentiment.
To my left stood a 50-something family lawyer whose schizophrenic younger son was at last on a medication -- legal in Europe but hard to come by in the U.S. -- that kept him on an even keel. The lawyer said he had tried to encourage his younger son, in his twenties, to study something that would provide him with a job, but the young man had decided instead to take a couple of history courses -- hard ones -- at a local university. The older son, in his 30's, lived at home as well and paid rent ... which the lawyer said he could use: His profession, while heartfelt, did not pay well... defending poor people with few means and a basketful of problems. This week, he was defending a 14-year-old boy who had been abused by his father. The boy's mother had acceded and today was jealous of her son's sexual hold on her husband. And besides the facts that were enough to rip your heart out, the lawyer had been in his game long enough to know that the perpetrators, up close and personal, could be pretty nice people, people hard to wrap up in a righteous and indignant wrath. It was a scenario that might make an adult out of anyone.
Also on the picket line, as usual, was a young man, in his 20's perhaps, with shoulder-blade-length hair, an unprepossessing beard, green sweat pants, and a large rectangular sign that listed (in clear print) every country in which the United States had military involvement. There were so many, that the countries had to be printed small ... although the sign, tacked to wooden legs, was perhaps two feet high and six feet long. The young man stood, as he always does, near the Main Street curb so that passing vehicles could get a better look at his version of the peace protest. Most of the others in the group stood back from the curb, along a fence outside the courthouse, wearing simpler but more easily read signs.
The young man is one voice among many and the peace protest finds many different voices in its midst. Most of the people are older and less strident. But the young man is full of intelligent talk, which he unstintingly shares with anyone unfortunate enough to listen. Not to put to fine a point on it, the young man irritates the shit out of me.
I missed the interchange when it occurred, but caught enough of it so that my irritation boiled over yesterday. Briefly, a man in a black SUV across Main Street must have called out something like, "My son is over there," meaning in one of the American-sponsored war zones, Iraq or Afghanistan, perhaps. And the young man called back -- and this is the part whose specifics I missed -- "if America hadn't sent him, he would be safe." Those were not the exact words, but the impact was similarly, if not more, insensitive.
Several people on the peace line took umbrage. At least I was not alone. "Don't say that!" they called out in one form or another. And my mouth spoke too: "Have your own son before you spout that bullshit!" The young man defended himself. What he said was logical, he pointed out. And that is what is so irritating about him ... his logic may be spot on, but his understanding is full of shit.
It was a young man's sport -- intelligence unleavened with heart -- and I recognized in the young man something I too had done at his age... sought to overcome with intelligence the insurmountable and fearful specifics of this life: If I am just intelligent enough, I will be in control, I will be able to explain and, as a result, be at peace. And more, life will listen to me as currently it seems disinclined to do. Life is scary and uncertain and I have not yet marshaled the experience or mustered the courage to be afraid.
In the moment I yelled at the young man, I was angry. Later, I saw myself in him. And while, in that seeing, I was sympathetic, I was not about to retract or back away in imagined 'compassion' from my anger. Horseshit is horseshit. The fact that I have been and continue to be capable of horseshit idiocies does not mean I have to refrain from calling it out.
But I thought about the incident later -- as now -- and think I have devised a plan. Next week, much as I dislike discourse with dickheads, I think I will suggest to this young man that, for one hour each day for a week, he refrain from speaking the word "should." Just one hour each day. The mind may fill up with the word "should," but for that one hour, simply refrain from speaking it. Practice for a week. See what happens.
Will my plan 'work?' Will it cool this young man's fearful jets? Who knows? I certainly don't. But it strikes me as a plan with possible upside benefits. "Should" is such a fearful word, such a searching word, such an ineffective word. So prayerful and impotent. And yet the underlying longing to be heard and to be at peace is very touching, very understandable, very human. To use the word "should" is to bite the clouds of a future that no one can see. It is to seek peace where there is only war... and thus contribute to the war. "Should" says between this young man's lines, "I deserve to be God. I deserve to be in control. I deserve to be heard and to rule .... and thus find some elusive peace." And of course he is God ... but saying so doesn't make it true, any more than saying "peace" brings an actualized peace.
Before next Saturday's peace picket, I will try to practice a little myself. I don't expect it will be easy. The "should" habit is pretty strong. Not speaking the word "should" is, of course, a starting point. Not imposing it in the mind comes later. One step at a time. Courage isn't born overnight.
Yes, I think I 'should' try it.