Saturday, March 19, 2005

Peace Reigns in Philadelphia as Well

Around 200 were gathered tonight at City Hall, that tarnished yet proud wedding cake of a building. It was appropriate to end there, underneath the statue of William Penn (that's William Penn on your left there), the Quaker who started this Commonwealth. Quakers are for peace, after all, and they are influential in this area.

The crowd was quiet as the names of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware soldiers who had died in Iraq were read. Nathan, a frail 12 year old stood beside me. I met him and his mother after, but his expression during the reading of the names captured me. His was a mop of unruly hair, and his mouth was crooked in such a way as to hint at an mischievous nature, but the boy was rapt by the reading of the names, his eyes glistening in the light of the candle he held. Were they tears in his eyes, or hope?

Nathan and the young everywhere in this country are our future, and his innocent understanding of the gravity of the moment gives me hope. As I stood during the reading of those names and watched that serious boy I could not help but hear the kids on their skateboards in the distance, doing their tricks on the grounds of City Hall. And yet, it was not the contrast I imagined, callow youths versus Nathan's seriousness, for by the end of the reading the skateboarders had approached and raised their arms with peace signs. The image was odd -- almost like these skateboard punks were channelling Tommy Smith and John Carlos from the Mexico City Olympics, for in those peace signs of theirs was a kind of power that was honest.

We all sang "We Shall Overcome" at the end, and Nathan's high voice joined mine and my friend Stephanie's more adult and less beautiful tones. Indeed, the power of all our voices was sweet and pierced through the traffic just a couple dozen feet away. I have not been so moved in a church in a very long time, but it was not a church, except to those who had gathered to make it so. By the end of the song, we were all smiling, perhaps at the comradery, perhaps at the notion that even a couple hundred can do much.

Tomorrow there will be another gathering for peace at the historic Friends' Meeting House at the corner of Fourth and Arch Streets in Old City, Philadelphia, just three blocks from Independence Hall and a block from Benjamin Franklin's grave. It is sponsored by the Brandywine Peace Community (cClick on the blog link for detailed information about the March). Among the speakers is Michael Berg, who is called a traitor by the wing dings, but is merely the father of Nicholas Berg.

I will go to this march as well. I will listen to the speeches, and in the end I will have spent an important and meaningful Palm Sunday. As is customary for tourists and for Philadelphia citizens, on my way home I will drop a penny on Ben's grave (the picture of his grave is on the right). It is sort of like a wishing well thing. If the penny rolls off the limestone slab, then one's wish is not granted, or so tradition says. My wish will be for many more folks in this world to understand that peace is the first duty of any religion. Peace is what Jesus taught, and while I am rarely of a religious mind, in this season working for peace is the most important work any of us can do.

Bless you, ASZers.