An Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan By Beth Howard
Yesterday [May 29, 2007], I read in your online diary that you are leaving Crawford, Texas and going home to California. You wrote, “This is my resignation letter as the ‘face’ of the American anti-war movement.” There is so much energy in politics and government that is not peaceful. Much of our democratic process seems to be fueled by the energy of war, but we do not call it that. We call it the “two-party system” and sometimes, “competition.”
Later in your diary, you wrote, “I am going home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost.” Maybe now, you will have time to focus on cultivating the seeds of peace planted so firmly in your own tender heart. I hope that you will grow an oasis of peace within your family and community.
I am deeply sorry for the death of your son, Casey, in Iraq. I cannot imagine your pain and deep sadness. Please, accept my condolences and also my deep sadness that insults were added to injury in your effort to honor your son’s life by working for peace. One day, I am terrified that I may follow in your footsteps, with the loss of one of my own sons in this war. It is the subject of all my worst daydreams and nightmares.
My 21-year-old son, Peter, is a soldier in Iraq. Three weeks ago, the truck he was riding in was blown-up by a roadside bomb.
Peter, the gunner, was thrown off the vehicle when the five-ton truck was flipped on its side. He has a piece of shrapnel in his thigh, some bruises and abrasions, but otherwise, is okay. He was awarded a Purple Heart and after two weeks off, to recover from his injuries, he returned to his regular duty. Last week, he completed another mission, taking turns serving as the gunner and driver in the 113 degree heat. Peter’s tour of duty in Iraq was extended three months with the rest of the Army. I can hardly bear it, but how can I possibly complain, when so many sons, like yours, have died? As the mother of a living soldier, I am one of the “lucky” ones.
This was a difficult Memorial Day, with the possibility of violent death before my eyes and too close for any comfort. I wore a small pin with two blue stars, signifying that I have two sons in military service. Peter’s twin brother, Andrew, is a Marine Security Guard, serving in Saudi Arabia.
When my sons joined the military, I honored their choice to stand for the courage of their convictions. Their father and I had taught them for years to do just that. Their strength was an inspiration to me and I seized the opportunity of their enlistment to act and work for peace. I started with myself, my family, and my community. In spite of the daily horrors of war, I can still find peace in those places and I continue to grow it from that fertile soil. I prefer to think of peace as one of those tenacious perennial
plants, growing in the garden of my life. Year to year, it gradually spreads to take over everything. I have a very good, real-life example of this plant in the garden of my yard, which serves as a valuable reminder to me that peace, too, is hardy and persistent.
Peace persists, even in Iraq. When my son, Peter, was home on leave in April, he showed us a slide show of pictures from Iraq on his laptop. He had many pictures of children, running beside their convoy. He said they ask for food and water. Sometimes, he tosses them his sandwich.
Last week, during an Instant Message conversation with Peter, I asked if I could send some granola bars for him to toss to the children. He replied, “If I remember, I grab muffins before the mission, because I can chuck a muffin pretty far.” I asked if I could send some muffins and he replied, “Mom, there is no short supply of muffins in Iraq.”
We will seldom, if ever, read such stories in the press, so I hang on to this one, to remind myself that small acts of kindness are happening every day in Iraq. These acts are tiny seeds of peace being sown and I hope that they will grow, even in the intense heat of summer and of war.
So now, at home in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I think of ways that I might “chuck a muffin” for peace. On Sunday night, I slept at my Unitarian Universalist Church with a homeless mother and daughter. The mother was exhausted after working two part-time jobs as a motel maid. I played basketball with the energetic eightyear-old girl and shared a few simple yoga stretches with them before bed. In this small way, I shared peace with one family in my town. Now that you are home, I hope that there will be many opportunities for you to cultivate peace in your own backyard.
Years ago, unknowingly, you and I collaborated in the Mindfulness Bell (Winter 2005-2006.) I wrote an article titled “Peace is Every Step” on the L.A. Peace Walk and the International Day of Mindfulness and Peace. Your article was “I Have Arrived, I am Home” on walking with Thay in MacArthur Park on that day. Our articles appeared side-by-side.
In that issue, Thay said, “There is much in the peace movement that is not peaceful.” You have learned this first-hand. Someone once asked Thay what could be done to bring peace to the situation in Iraq. He responded by saying that there are many wrong perceptions on both sides. We must begin, he said, by looking deeply at our own practice. To have peace in the world, we must first have peace within ourselves.
Thich Nhat Hanh will be teaching across the U.S. again this year. There will be another Peace Walk in MacArthur Park on September 29th. His tour schedule is at: www.greenmountaincenter.org. If you see him, I know that Thay will chuck you a muffin. He bakes them daily in his peaceful heart and gives them all away.
Beth Howard, Peaceful Source of the Heart, practices with the Bird & Bell Meditation Group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne and with the Peaceful Heart Sangha in Fort Collins, Colorado. She is a writer, yoga teacher, weaver and singer, living with her husband of thirty years, Paul, in Cheyenne, Wyoming.