Last Saturday I took a walk up Broadway. A walk with a five foot tall peace sign mounted on a six foot long bamboo pole. Why?
A while back, I read about John Francis in Planet Walker. Troubled by an oil spill in 1971, John Francis examines his part in what happened and his responsibility for the world around him and, as a response, stops using motor vehicles, begins walking everywhere, learns to play the banjo, and chooses to stop speaking, communicating without words. Small walks at first. Then across the country over the course of nine years. Then a five year walk through South America. He also founded Planetwalk, dedicated to environmental consciousness.
Hear him speak…
He inspired me though it took a while for that inspiration to take form. In the fall, the idea came to me – a peace sign. Carry a peace sign around New York City. Do it in a meditative way, like kinhin, the silent, eyes-downward walking meditation that follows seated practice in the Zen tradition. Crazy sounding? Yes, but it felt right – walking in silence is one place I feel comfortable and light, where I can do no harm because all there is is walking. How would I make it happen?
The idea takes a seat on the shelf of ideas and more time passes, but the world keeps pressing. America is fighting in Iraq, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Libya. Our culture is seeded with aggression and conflict. How can we respond to that? How can we answer that with an alternative? How can we plant seeds of peace, cooperation, and collaboration?
I look at my own life and I see the many conflicts. Minor frustrations that become disconnection or harsh words. Arguments, points of view, opinions, decisions. Reacting to events from deep habit instead of this moment. All of this requires attention. All of this requires letting go and being open. And that takes patience, dedication, and encouragement. Part practice for myself, part hope for others, I spend spare hours over a month building a sign – a five foot tall peace sign that can be broken down into pieces to make it easy to transport. And I get a six foot tall bamboo pole so I could carry the sign high, for all to see.
And, on March 26th, I walked from Battery Park to Verdi Square on the Upper West Side carrying this sign. None of the fears I had before embarking on this came to pass. The police did not hassle me. Nobody heckled me. The sign did not fly off the pole or fall into pieces in a heavy wind. What I did hear is a lot of encouragement and support. My eyes were mostly on the ground, so I hardly saw the faces I passed – I suspect there was some confusion too. Maybe nothing at all changed. Maybe somebody asked themselves deeper questions. Maybe somebody felt inspired. Maybe somebody felt hopeful.
I have no idea what ripples this little pebble might create, but I aim to walk each month with this sign and maybe each of us will begin to realize that if we believe in peace, if we want peace, then we have to think peace, speak peace, act peace.
To a veteran
Walking up Broadway
Carrying a five foot tall peace sign
On a six foot bamboo pole
‘I support what you’re saying’
Short hair, glasses, standing
‘Read my sign – I support what you’re doing’
Homeless vet written neatly on cardboard
There was more
But I was walking
‘Right on’ was all that came from my mouth
You needed to be heard
I needed to hear you
I was too many steps away