As Memorial Day looms, I am re-posting my thoughts about it from last year. Once again I have just returned from our Unity Regional Men’s Retreat and re-experienced the peace, oneness and sameness that spontaneously occur whenever men let down their guards and allow their authenticity and vulnerability to shine forth. This year there were 39 men in attendance at the retreat and I’m feeling immensely hopeful for the world. Enjoy!
Memorial Day has held little meaning in my life beyond family picnics, the onset of the “summer vibe” and invariably, in my 33 years here in Lake Tahoe, snowstorms. I’ve always been aware of what the holiday was about, that it used to be called Decoration Day, but perhaps because I had no close relatives who died in battle I was insulated from its true meaning. At least in my early years. Growing up during the Vietnam War, that all changed. There were guys I grew up with in my neighborhood that didn’t come home.
But by then I had become a bit of a hippie and peacenik, and decorating the graves of soldiers just didn’t seem to be part of the program. Though I had grown up marching with my toy gun to John Philip Souza and reveling in multitudinous John Wayne films, by this time in my life anything related to military endeavors had not only lost its luster, but was an anathema, scary, unimaginable and something I didn’t even want to look at, let alone remember.
I see now that I have done a lot of people a tremendous disservice. For all these years, I have equated the warriors with the war. Even worse than that, I have blamed the warriors for the war. I have met a ton of Vietnam vets and so many of them are understandably bitter about the way they were “welcomed” home. In my anti-war stance I’ve managed pretty well to avoid any responsibility or self-recrimination for my part in that. I can’t begin to imagine how that must feel and I now humbly apologize to all of you. I realize it means little at this point, but it means a lot to me. Not only do I intend remembering all the fallen today, but also all those un-fallen who still carry the scars and wounds of war.
My stance on Memorial Day has changed as it has suddenly become clear that I am just as much to blame for war as anyone else. Every week in most Unity and Religious Science centers the service ends with The Peace Song, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Some in our community have wanted to change those words to more affirmative ones, “Yes, there is peace on earth; I know it begins with me.” I’ve been reluctant to change the words because as they stand, they remind me that in every moment I have a choice to allow peace to come into my awareness and into the world. Now, the next time someone asks about changing the words, I’ll be tempted to say, “Fine, as long as we also add the line, ‘Yes, there is war on earth; I know it begins with me.’” In every moment, I also have the choice to create violence, and I’ve become aware recently of how often I do so, in some subtle and not so subtle ways.
I just came back from a Unity men’s retreat. Thirty-three guys and the great majority have served in the military. They were some of the most peaceful men I’ve ever met, and it was perhaps the most peaceful gathering I’ve ever attended. Thirty-three guys and not one mention of football or politics. We laughed and cried and played music together. We shared things with each other that we hadn’t shared with anyone before, with the possible exception of our closest relations. We shared our gifts and also our authentic, screwed up selves and found out we weren’t alone in being gifted and screwed up. We found out that sorrow and joy can coexist in the same moment; that they are in fact inseparable. And we found out that we can each learn volumes about ourselves in community, especially when we can simply be ourselves in that community.
It seems ironic that I learned so much about violence by participating in such a peaceful gathering. The gift was that violence was so glaringly absent I was able to pay attention to what was missing. We weren’t competing! We weren’t doing all those usual man things like trying to fix each other or giving advice or negating others’ experiences (“ah, you think that’s bad? Well listen to this…”) or attempting to shift someone else’s reality (by interposing our own, of course) or sharing words with the sole intention of showing everyone how much we knew. These are common acts of violence! And I’m not sure they’re only man things.
We sat with our judgments and explored their origins within ourselves. We had agreed right off the bat to see and treat each other as whole, perfect and complete. We did a pretty damn good job of honoring that agreement, and peace reigned supreme. All this certainly wasn’t easy for me, but what helped was first honoring, and then tapping into, all the warrior energy in the room and finding it within myself. In letting go of my blind spots around what being a warrior means, I received a much greater awareness of what it means to be a peaceful warrior.
Gandhi said a coward could never be nonviolent. This means that all the qualities we attribute to warriors, such as discipline, decisiveness, preparation, mindfulness, courage and perseverance, are indispensible as we battle the demons and violence and craziness in our own minds and transform them so that love and peace remain.
I had another similar realization at the retreat: being anti-war never brought me to peace. Not once. By choosing to be against war and against warriors and against violence, by choosing to be against anything, I was just as guilty of choosing violence and expressing violence as everyone I judged. I believe we’ll continue to live in a violent world until we all take responsibility for the seeds of violence that we harbor and “put out there”, because only then can we begin to address the cause and use our warrior natures to transform our own consciousnesses.
So now I’m choosing to be for peace, and to be a warrior for peace. I know that begins with me, and for a start I’ll remember all the warriors today with honor, with gratitude and with love. I see a day when we won’t have to decorate graves and instead can focus on decorating the world with our beauty. Peace.
And, if that’s all we remember, that’s more than enough for now.