Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 7, 2003
Unfurl your butterfly wings
We must be the change we wish to see in the world
By SUZANNE ELSTON
Last week I did something that I'm ashamed to admit I've never done before. I marched in a peace demonstration. It was Thursday, the morning after the U.S. and Britain officially began the attack on Iraq. I was at my desk working when my dear friend and mentor Elisabeth charged into the office and said, "Come on, then. We can't just sit around here. Put your lipstick on - we've got to make some signs and head over to the U.S. Embassy."
"Lipstick?" I asked.
"Of course," she replied. "You have to put your best face forward!"
Perhaps I should back up just a little bit. I'm not quite as apathetic as I sound. Over the years I've written extensively about peace and how we can learn to actively wage it. I've participated in many marches and demonstrations. I've marched against garbage dumps, nuclear waste and the despoilment of the planet in general. I've demonstrated outside the offices of corporate bullies and sung songs at open rallies, but I'd never actually marched in direct opposition to war.
During the Vietnam War, I was too young (my parents grounded me rather than letting me join the historic March on Washington in 1971). During other conflicts I was either too pregnant, too tired, too busy or simply uninspired to participate. I live in the country, I'd rationalize, and I'm doing my own little thing for peace by simply living mindfully on the planet.
Elisabeth and I put a few signs together and walked over to join the early demonstrators across the street from the Embassy. It was still early in the day - hours before thousands of demonstrators gathered in the pouring rain to make national headlines.
By the time we arrived there were only a few hundred people gathered. Our numbers were only slightly more than the police that had gathered across the street to prevent anyone from getting too close to the Embassy.
Most of the early demonstrators carried signs that identified them as members of the Communist Workers Party of Iraq. There was a handful of students, too, mothers with babies in strollers and a few middle-aged mothers, like Elisabeth and me.
We marched and sang and laughed for a couple of hours before we returned to the business of the day. And while my initiation into the world of peace marches was uneventful, the change in my heart was profound.
Later, my son Matthew asked me what we had possibly hoped to accomplish.
"The war has already started, Mom," he said. "And besides, Canada has officially said that it won't participate, so what's the point?"
I tried to tell him that it did matter that we spoke out. Our government needs to understand that we do appreciate and support its position. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator. His list of crimes against humanity - including his own people - is well documented. The point is that waging war will never earn a lasting peace. We must learn to wage peace as actively and as passionately as those who would wage war. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world."
I tried to explain that what we do on the other side of the world matters simply because we are all connected. If the flapping of a butterfly's wing can alter the weather on the other side of the world, then surely the voices of peace heard in Toronto and other cities and towns across this country can be felt, at least in spirit, in those places where it is needed the most.
And while all the platitudes gave me some comfort, I could see in his 17-year-old eyes, that Matthew was unimpressed. The important thing was that it didn't matter. I had stood and been counted, and it felt good.
To borrow from Haldir the Elf, a character in Tolkien's epic, The Lord of the Rings, "The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater."
As I watched the news Thursday night and saw the tens of thousands who had gathered not only in Toronto but also in cities across Canada and around the world, I felt as if I had been a very small part of a shift in the wind. Somewhere, a butterfly flapped its wings.
Recommended website:The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research is based in Sweden. Its mission is peace: learning to handle conflicts with ever less violence against other human beings, other cultures and Nature. Visit www.transnational.org
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