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Winter 2002

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A Couple of Steps With Some Hopeful Travelers

Journal entry by Mary Hillebrand

sketch of candles

Saturday, November 17, 2001 --

"Peace be to you,
and peace be to your heart,
and peace, oh peace
be to all the world."

This is the simple song I sang this evening with a small group of people who walked from various places between New York and D.C., down to the Lincoln Memorial, where I met them. Some of them started way up in New York, carrying a flame that began at the rubble of the World Trade Center and would finish its journey at the burned out hole in the side of the Pentagon.

The tune of the song is so simple and beautiful. Will I remember it years from now, when I look back and read this passage? Perhaps not. But for this moment, right now, as I sit at a beautiful, fall-decorated table and eat hot food by candlelight an hour after leaving them, the song is in my head and my heart. At this moment, the song helps me hold onto the energy and love of that peace gathering.

It was a pretty small group - maybe 30 people or so. When I've heard about gatherings like this lately, I've imagined larger groups - I guess it's the idealist in me imagining that, thinking "How could such a positive effort not attract hundreds?" I'm not disappointed though, when I see the smaller groups that do gather. I'm grateful that those people came out that day and hopeful they'll carry the spirit of peace shared in that event with them to others they know.

After the walkers formed a circle near the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial, we all lit candles from the lantern they had carried down from New York. We had an eight-minute silent meditation there - eight minutes for infinity, whose symbol is 8 on its side. I sat down on the cold cobblestone terrace with my candle and felt the stone under my butt and legs and feet and felt connected to the Earth. I looked around the circle at the candlelit faces of the walkers, some with tears in their eyes and many with peaceful half-smiles on their lips, and I felt connected to the world. I looked up to the sky to the left of the Lincoln Memorial and saw the crescent moon hanging very low in the night sky, and I felt the heat of the candle under my chin, and I felt blessed.

When the circle was done, we each walked with our candles past each other person in the circle, giving silent "eye hugs" of peace and love to each as we slowly walked by. Some of these walkers, all ages, male and female, mostly Caucasian and many weather-beaten and a bit scraggly-looking, held my gaze so intensely it felt as if we were talking without sound. From one guy, I saw "We can do this, you and me!" in his eyes. To a woman my eyes said, "Thank you." It was beautiful and made me smile and smile.

Then we walked silently toward the Vietnam Memorial, planning to walk past it with our candles and peace flags and the yellow banner that says "May Peace Prevail on Earth." The park service stopped us and, noting they had given us some slack to hold a demonstration without a permit, said we couldn't bring candles or banners to the wall. So when everyone had finished their "eye hugs" and reached that stopping point, we listened to one of the leaders help us transfer our candle flames to our hearts.

At that moment, I stared down at my little white candle, with its little paper wax catcher, and felt how important it had become to me in those 15 minutes or so that I had held it. My grip on its stubby end was so tight! So I loosened it, letting the flat bottom of the candle rest gently between my fingers. I stared at that flame and breathed in and out the peace it represented, and my eyes filled with tears as I realized I had to blow it out. The wonder of it is that, as my eyes filled up, the flame multiplied and stretched and echoed and wavered, making this beautiful kaleidoscope of white light in the tears in my eyes. It got more beautiful the more my recognizing its significance stirred tears in me.

And I thought sadly, "I don't want to blow out this candle. I love this little flame." As the tears trickled down my cheeks, I remembered that letting go is part of loving the present moment - and I fully believed what the woman was saying about keeping the real peace flame in our hearts. I bent my head and, with an unexpectedly weak breath, blew a puff of air toward the flame. It quivered and flickered, but it didn't go out. "Ha!" I thought. "It doesn't want to leave me either!" Another, stronger puff and the flame was smoke, and I saw the darkness around me in a new way. The peace flame had jumped into my heart, and I carried it home, rollerblading up the dark road alongside the mall, singing out loud to the city,

"Peace be to you,
and peace be to your heart,
and peace, oh peace
be to all the world!"R


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