A Holy Month

publishers note – document has been edited to remove the names of individuals.
another note: not all of the names as i am quite lazy.

 

Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo

This month is Ramadan, the Muslim Holy Month. The month when people try and strengthen their relationship with God and work to purify themselves through fasting, prayer, and cutting off a relationship with unhealthy things. Hamdulilah.

This month saw the 67th Anniversary of the first A-bombs to be dropped in this universe over Hiroshima, where over 300,000 people died instantly, and Nagasaki, where over 150,000 were instantly killed. Nam Yo Ho Ren Ge Kyo.

This month was my one year Anniversary and the month of peace walks.
On the 8th of July I left my job at Tedeschi’s Food Shops to spend my time walking, organizing, and sharing stories of and with people I came across. My husband also left his job. On the 9th of July we bought a car off of craigslist for 600.00. On the 10th we got it licensed, vacuumed, packed it up and drove to the first walk.

Jun san of the Grafton Peace Pagoda was starting a month long walk around Lake Ontario, stopping at uranium mines and nuclear reactors and meeting with elders and youth of the Iroqouis Confederacy. There are 13 nuclear reactors on the Canadian side and 4 reactors on the US side of the Lake. The U.S. wants to make more.

The “No More Fukushimas Walk” (whose banner read “Walk for Mother Earth”, perhaps a broader, seemingly less invasive title) started at the Onondaga Nation on the evening of July 11th. The walk had dinner at the Zen Center in Syracuse, NY, and came back to stay in the cook house at Onondaga.

13 of us unrolled sleeping bags and mats and slept in that building together, beginning (for me, at least) this month of prayers and spiritual work.

The morning of July 12 was clear and beautiful.
It was at 6:30 that our group came together for morning prayers. Bags packed and ready to be loaded into the car, dressed, floor swept and back in place.
We started to set up inside the cooks house but Jun san told us we would be outside instead.

We carried out a wooden bench and set it up in front of the longhouse.
On this bench we set up our altar. A cloth, a small Buddha, a picture of Guruji.
Incense and images and small offerings from other religious traditions.

We set up several rows of chairs and Junsan began to drum.
Some of us sat with her on the cement, cool from the morning mist and hard like concrete is supposed to be.
Others sat in the chairs. Jean Shenandoah and several other Onondaga elders sat with us as we greeted the sun.

When the drumming and prayers were finished Jun san passed around a few short poems and words that some of the walkers read.
Prayers for the earth. Prayers for a nuclear free earth.

A few walkers offered reflections and songs. An Onondaga man stood and offered a prayer of thanks giving.
We all bowed and stood for breakfast.

A host offered to take the entire walk for breakfast to the Firekeepers Diner. We put tables together and had a morning feast.
As the plates were almost cleared three walkers offered peace cranes and pins with the four sacred colors to the kitchen staff.

We went back to the cook house to load our bags into the car and fill up our water bottles.

This room where we had all been sleeping that was quiet and dark two hours ago was now full of sunlight and noise and people. 50 or 60 people, young people who were waiting to walk with us for the morning.

Once the vehicles were loaded up with our gear and our group (which was now closer to 100 than 20) made a circle and pulled out their battle weapons and listened for instructions – peace drums, banners, cameras and flags. We waited.

Jun san shared with the walk the disaster that is still occurring in Japan. She spoke about walking through these sacred sites and thanked everyone for coming out in the morning. She reminded the group of her Grandmother Audry Shenandoah who had just passed last year, and as she thanked everyone for being there and the Nation of Onondaga for continually supporting her and the walks she pulled out the drum and we began to walk.

We started behind the longhouse in a circle around Audry Shenandoah’s grave and continued out into Syracuse.

http://peacewalks.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/dsc01961.jpg

Yusuf and I stayed with the walk through the first week – up to the Canadian border.
We left the walkers on July 18th in Watertown, NY at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.
With our crane and our pins we wished them luck and strength and promised to return. We rode to Grafton Peace Pagoda to get our car.

From Grafton Peace Pagoda we drove towards Western Massachusetts where we were to stay at Seeds of Solidarity farm. We decided to make a stop at Leverett Peace Pagoda. We made it in time for evening prayers. We stayed for the end of prayers in the new temple and then shared some of our story of walking. Of vigiling at Hancock Air Force base and hearing stories from former Nuclear Inspectors and Nuclear Warhead Engineers. We left for the farm with a promise to return.

When we arrived at Seeds of Solidarity everyone was just gathering for dinner from a hard day of harvesting garlic. Fritzy had recently arrived from the Netherlands, and Angelo was back at the farm for the summer. We broke bread together and Yusuf and I shared the stories of the previous week.
We told them about the water ceremony at the gates of Oswego Nuclear facility and the hawk that circled us immediately after. We told them about the unbearable heat and the dry, brown land. We shared pictures and I shared my song and exhausted, we all went to sleep.

We awoke to a sunny Thursday morning, which, at Seeds of Solidarity means SOL Garden Day.
SOL Garden – Seeds of Leadership – is an education program that the farm runs. Once a week about 20 youth from the two neighboring towns hop on a bus from their high school and are brought to the farm. For an hour or so they sit and talk. They snack and unwind from school and learn about different farming techniques, and where our food comes from.
After this they work in the SOL Garden Greenhouse and field for an hour or maybe two before the bus returns to bring them home. In the summer they take part in a program called Senior Farm Share which every week gives a bag of food to 28 local seniors.
Not very long ago I was a SOL Gardener.

I spent the morning getting in touch with the walk, learning that two walkers and all of the luggage was not able to cross the border and so the remaining walkers were sitting in a cemetery somewhere close to the border. I made phone calls and emails while Yusuf harvested and bundled garlic with Fritzy and Rick and Angelo and Deb met with educators about the days SOL lesson.

I went up to join them.

This Thursday at SOL Garden was a special day as the SOL youth were hosting a group from Springfield – Teatro V!da, a theater group with a focus on anti-bullying. The two groups ate and shared stories, Teatro V!da shared a book that the youth had written in collaboration with a few older, well known authors and their own experiences with bullying. We shared our stories and asked each other what brought us to this place on this day. I shared the pin with the four sacred colors and a news article and the spirit of the walk. We shared pesto, went up for Senior Farm Share, had an appreciation circle for Catherine (it was her birthday) and went down to the house for the evening.

In the morning two neighbors, Jim and Lydia came over for breakfast. Yusuf made, “Turkish French Toast” and we had a hearty meal. Jim shared with us his work in the prison systems, and the isolation he has faced for holding ceremony and sweat lodge with men from all backgrounds.

We said goodbye to Fritzy who was headed to another farm and then left (with produce and garlic) for the Peace Pagoda.

The plan was to stay for a few days but we were both thoroughly exhausted and so we left Western MA to return to our home in Fitchburg and spend (at least one) night in our own bed.

It’s always a little strange living with a big group of people who range in age and background and experiencing that life daily to return to a home with just yourself. It seems quiet.

In our time at home we watched the world continue to show us outbursts of violence and outcries of suffering and we shared our own pain and uncertainty for the future. We got ready to move again.

July 29 was the 60th birthday celebration for Bruce Gagnon, an organizer, writer, veteran and activist. Co-ordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

In Spring of 2010 I did my first walk. A 45 day, “Walk for a Nuclear Free Future” to the United Nations for the beginning of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. At the beginning of that walk we spent 10 days walking through Maine. 10 snowy, cold, rainy, glorious days that Bruce organized. He walked with us and we became friends. We have walked together a few times since then, and he was a major support system for me in going to Australia to walk. Emotionally and financially, when many people told me it was impossible, Bruce and his partner Mary Beth were some of the few who assured me that I could do the walk.

Yusuf and I left from our house to drive to Maine around noon on the 29th. We got turned around a few times and spent hours driving through the rain, wondering when we would make it to Addams-Melman House in Bath, Maine.

We arrived around 3pm.

No one knew I was coming, so it was a bit of a surprise for them all. I hugged Bruce and MB Bruce introduced me to the group. Several of the people approached me who I had met in previous years walking through Maine. They hugged me and held my hand and said they were glad to see that I was still walking and Did I remember them?
Most of the group cleared out and Yusuf and I sat with the inhabitants of Addams-Melman House to catch up on life.

We stayed the night.

In the morning I shared with them my song and opinions and Yusuf and I left for Massachusetts with Space for Peace Week posters and the latest updates on Gangejeong village.

Yusuf has never been to Maine or swam in the ocean so we decided to stop for a brief swim at Old Orchard Beach.

The water was beautiful and we had freedom to go in as we wished but it’s hard for me to experience places and things that I once experienced now.
The sun was high and the salt water refreshing but the beach was full of vacationing “middle class” white people and I felt a bit out of place.

We left for home.

We did laundry and ate a meal. We got an oil change and we picked up my father from Gardner to go to Brooklyn to visit my gran gran who had just gotten in from Barbados and was staying with my uncle. Yusuf’s never met (much) of my family, so I was excited.
I was also excited because I haven’t seen my gran in a few years and as I’m getting older I really want to know her. I want to know where her grandparents came from and my grandfather’s too. I want to know about my Bajan heritage and food and language and dance and music. I want to know my family and understand my complex heritage.

We stayed in Brooklyn for a few days, going to Queens to visit Baris from Corum and share an iftar meal with he and his wife. We left BK for Massachusetts and got incredibly lost again, ending up in Long Island. We called Yilmaz and asked if we could stay the night. He agreed.

After a few more long and seemingly endless hours we got to his house at 3:15 am which normally might have been rude and awkward but was  in fact beautiful. Everyone in the house was awake and had just finished eating before going back to sleep for the morning.  Yusuf and I enjoyed burek and chai and soup and a feast before going to sleep.

In the morning we spent some time with Cidem and the kids. I read some of Maya Angelou’s, “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin Merry Like Christmas” which I borrowed from my Uncle’s Living Room Floor Library Collection. It’s such an amazing book. I didn’t want it to end. I haven’t been so immersed in a book in a while and I finally realized why – So many of the books I read (memoir or otherwise) are written by older successful white people whose life circumstances bear no resemblance to my own.

It was such an empowering experience for me to read that book and I realized what a crime it was to my education that I have never before read the words of a black woman. I’ve read about some black women like Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth but their lives were so far removed from my own, growing up. These women were powerful activists whose abolitionist and civil rights work called them in a time I can hardly imagine living in.
Maya Angelou was just a woman. Just a dancer. A mom trying to make the best decisions for her son. And a writer. And oh my lord, I have fallen in love with this woman.

In the last few months I’ve been trying to read more about powerful women since the history I have been taught would lead me to believe there’s no such thing. Or that powerful women are always standing behind powerful men cleaning their clothes and listening to their sorrows. Although I’m not in school I believe firmly in education. I am aware that knowledge is not necessarily power but freedom of choice and freedom to believe in whatever we choose so I have been reading books by people (and specifically women) who have worked to change themselves and the world.

Freedom From Fear Aung San Syuu Chi
and Reconciliation: Islam and the West Benazir Bhutto

Were the beginning of this project.
What Maya Angelou has given me is beautiful.
So so so I read some of this book in the sunny upstairs room of Yilmaz and Cidem who made me a beautiful breakfast even though she was fasting and then we continued to visit Yilmaz at work.

We stopped at Pizza Works to say hello to everyone and then left to Onata Lake to swim for a bit.

Rejuvenated we left the lake and drove home to Fitchburg.
We stayed for a few short days and then left our town for Springfield on August 6th, Hiroshima Day, to join up with the Leverett Peace Pagoda’s “Walk for a Nuclear Free Future”.

We greeted the familiar faces of our second peace walk and walked a few short miles with them into Westfield where we had dinner and then held a Hiroshima Day Ceremony.
We continued on this walk.

Thursday the 9th our walk ended at the Leverett Peace Pagoda with about 20 of us hot, sweaty, and tired gathering in the new temple for prayers and ceremony. We drummed and prayed and offered incense before gathering in a circle.

We spoke about personal responsibility, about personal sacrifice. About making the effort to realize where our electricity is coming from when we leave everything plugged on all the time, and about our personal level of consumption. We ended the circle and went down for dinner at the Pagoda. It was a beautiful potluck and a lovely way to end a walk and slowly, slowly everyone left.

Yusuf, Me, Menelek, Fritzy, Tim and the monastics were in the dojo living room talking about memoirs and our next steps.

Me and Yusuf opted to drive home for the night to get another night of rest in our home.
Friday evening we arrived at the Pagoda at 9pm. We ate and slept and were up at 5 for morning prayers.
Saturday evening was the ceremony at Grafton Peace Pagoda and so around 3pm Towbee Shonin, Kato Shonin, Sister Clare, Fritzy, Yusuf and me got in the dojo mobile and drove to Grafton. We arrived and went to greet the pagoda.

We entered the hondo to say quick prayers and hello before eating dinner. A few people trickled in as we were praying. People who through walks have become my family.

There were many surprises.

[xxxxx] walked into the hondo. He had just gotten in from Kentucky and was leaving in the morning. The last time I saw him was on the porch of 36 Glanville Street in Fremantle, Western Australia.

[xxxxx] and [xxxxx] came in and after embracing them both we entered the bustling dojo kitchen to eat with everyone else.

I walked into the room and saw [xxxxx] and [xxxxx] sitting immediately to the table at my left with Junsan and a few other people, sharing food and conversation.

It was so amazing to see so many people from so many different walks and places and times together in one room.

We ate and we all got into cars to drive into the center of town where we started a three mile walk back to the Pagoda.

We arrived at the Pagoda at dusk and started ceremony immediately.

Two fires were lit on either side of the platform and people started carrying out and lighting dozens of lanterns.
After some short introductions the monks and nuns started drumming and chanting and people followed them in a circle around the pagoda, placing lanterns where they went.

I have never seen a pagoda like that
lit up by lanterns and thousands of stars in the sky.
It was beautiful.

There were interfaith prayers started by [xxxxx], in the Catholic tradition.
Next came a man who sang the Azan and then prayed a few suras of the Muslim tradition.
A woman came with recorded music of a sitar and encouraged us all to sing a Hindu prayer.

We heard from walkers and organizers from the Iroquois Confederacy.

Cecile Pineda author of Devil’s Tango came to read passages from her book and speak.
(Actually she was totally a diva and there was a really strange paragraph she read where she began, “we will now hear from the voice of a Japanese girl” and started reading in a creepy high pitched voice that almost caused me to leave the ceremony)
But some of her words were powerful. And whatever her intentions, those words have inspired many people. So cheers to that.

A man shared music from his flute and we said our goodbyes which was perhaps the most beautiful time of all.
Whenever we see each other again things would be the same, our connections will remain.

When I got to the van there was a new person sitting in the car with us – Allan Brandt, a Mohawk man who Junsan asked to come with us to Leverett for the Peace Tree ceremony the next morning.

We arrived at Leverett near 2am, exhausted (a common theme this month) but spiritually rejuvenated, and slept.
In the morning we started preparing for our 11:00 am Peace Tree Ceremony.

The sky was gray and cloudy and our ceremony was supposed to be around the peace tree, outdoors. We had photos and materials that should stay dry.

At 10:15 it started to rain. Dark skies and moist fields.
I set up photos in the temple and Rick set up cushions.

By 10:46 it was sunny and hot and dry.

As usual everything worked out perfectly.
People started to gather. Jim was leading the ceremony and after burning sage, shared with us a few words and read some sufi poetry.
He shared words in memory of Slow Turtle

and said, “Each one of us has a gift. Our job is to find that gift, and give it away.”
Allan Brandt was asked to share a bit about the Peace Maker, the Peace Tree, and the life of Jake Swamp.

The full story of the peace maker takes 13 days to tell, so Allan had a lot of information to condense down, but he did it beautifully.

[xxxxx] had come back for the ceremony and he had to leave to Vermont. He needed the internet, as did [xxxxx] to get to New York, so I brought a few people down to the dojo.

I had trouble getting the internet to work and [xxxxx] was starting to get nervous. She was using an iPhone to check Megabus routes and schedules but she needed to get to New York for work on Monday. After about a half hour of her concern and no other opportunities arising, Yusuf and I agreed to take [xxxxx] to New York. [xxxxx] also needed to get to New Jersey, and Junsan had to get back to Grafton so we got everyone in our car and hit the road.

We left Junsan at Grafton Peace Pagoda and headed for the city.

We left [xxxxx] at Penn Station and [xxxxx] at her home in Brooklyn and went to Queens dojo to stay for the night.

Monday afternoon we left the dojo for Leverett Pagoda to take Fritzy with us for a few days.
So.

Its Thursday the 16th of August 2012.
The last month has been spent walking and reflecting and speaking and creating and strengthening connections with people.

The walk month is over. Sunday we go to Ramadan Bayram in NY and the fast is over too.

This month has been beautiful and powerful and overwhelming.
There has been intense prayer and spiritual practice, and intense pain and fear that has manifested itself as violence.

As we walk we have held in our hearts the flooding in the Philippines and the eruption in New Zealand. We have prayed for some solution in Syria and for lives lost. We have carried with us the Muslims in Burma and the people of Palestine. We have been shocked at the murders in Colorado and Wisconsin. We have prayed for Japan. Pakistan has been in our heart as has Yemen. Through the continuing chaos we have looked for hope and inspiration in each other, and we have found reason to keep our heads up, our hearts strong and to keep walking.
Peace

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