My Corner of the Boat
In 1970, Black Panther leader Bobby Seale was on trial in New Haven, Connecticut. Someone had allegedly murdered a fellow Panther because they thought he’d become a snitch for the FBI. The shooter said he’d been ordered to kill the man by Seale himself. The trials were accompanied by a large demonstration in New Haven on May Day, coinciding with the start of the American College Student Strike.
I was then a twenty-two year old full time activist, as we called ourselves. Vietnam, Civil Rights, Women’s Equality, and more, took up the bulk of my time. I’d dropped out of college, feeling strongly that until all these issues were rectified, I couldn’t just move along and focus on my own personal goals and desires. However misdirected that may have been, I felt it deeply.
I was sincere, passionate and in a car driving through Canada from Michigan to a New Haven courthouse.
A woman I knew, not at all a political wonk, had offered to take me on my quest in her brand new Pontiac Firebird. (No VW vans for that chick!) She seemed to enjoy hanging out with me. I guess she thought I was pretty cool for being a wild-haired, wide-eyed, big-mouthed hippie chick who knew all the stats about any given social or political topic, and could rant and rave with the best of ‘em.
Little did she know I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Neither did I.
Passing by Montreal, we turned south back into the States. Coming into Maine was extraordinarily beautiful, at that time of year. I’d never been in that region, and my mind was quieted by the rough ocean waves and the luscious, rocky beaches, surrounded by mountain vistas I’d never seen, other than in photographs or films.
Something in me wanted to stay, to rest, to take a break from saving the world. I was filled with guilt over wanting to do so. I felt so deeply about the things I wanted to help change, but something in me needed changing as well, and I finally had to admit that.
I was terrified. My identity was so embroiled in what I did, that I’d not yet considered who I was, beyond all my beliefs and activities. I was crashing fast and had no clue what to do about it.
I asked my friend if we could stay where we were, and not continue to New Haven. I just wanted to stop.
Once we did, astounding things began to unfold. Staying there turned out to be a truly life-altering decision. I finally had looked into that proverbial mirror and said to myself, “You scream and yell about peace, but are you in peace?”
Clearly, the answer was no.
I started to acknowledge that much of the anger and sadness I felt toward conditions in the outside world were deeply rooted in me, as an individual. There was a war raging in my own world as well, but it was much harder to protest that one, because I had no clue how to end it, no exit strategy whatsoever.
Fast forward, and I did find a way to do that, to end my own personal conflict. It took time, but I did make my own peace, one that had nothing to do with war mongers in Washington or the issues of equality and bitterness our nation desperately needed to resolve.
The peace I’d been seeking on the outside I now understood was a simple reality I’d carried in me all along. My own battle slowly began to end. For the very first time in my life, I found true resolution to the conflict that affected me the most, one far bigger than what I could ever hear about on the morning news.
I lost friends in the social activist movement because of the changes all this led me to. I was looked at by many as a drop-out to the important causes my peers continued to work for. It was a very hard time in many, many ways. The choices I made then were far from easy, but there’s never been any doubt that I did the right thing.
We “save the world” by saving ourselves.
I was telling this to a woman I met recently, someone about my age and still very politically active. She completely grasped why I chose what I did back then. She recounted something she read once; that we’re all on this giant ship that is heading in the wrong direction and we have to turn it around. Since no individual can do that alone, the author wrote, “Just pick a corner and start pushing.”
I won’t likely be seen at any more rallies or protests, or holding any campaign signs, but I respect those who will. The corner of the boat I’ve chosen to push on is the one that addresses a peace that can be felt by every individual, despite what’s going on around them, be it actual war or other battles we face in life.
Once in awhile, I meet someone working toward world peace, but clearly still in that war within themselves. Their rage seems always in the “on” position. I talked to the local leader of an anti-war group not long ago, about the class I facilitate on inner peace. He reacted with complete disdain that I no longer worked on the issues and activities he felt were paramount. I was hoping we could collaborate in some way, but he could not see our common bond. Such a shame.
Passion and concern about the conditions in this world are noble and needed, but in no way eliminate our own innate need to feel personal contentment and a true happiness. Without that inner satisfaction, we really only add to the root of the problems and diminish the energy we need to truly change those things we care about so deeply.
Personal peace is, in fact, a very practical solution, not a form of spiritual escapism…not for me, anyway. In my experience, and in what I practice, what I discover and feel is anything but spiritual. It’s as real as water when I’m thirsty…and just as crucial and necessary.
What a powerful solution, to not only talk about this topic, but actually feel peace, to have a true understanding about that word I’d use so readily, yet unconsciously, many years ago.
World peace? I’m not sure that will be ever be achieved. I can continue to hope, but unless individuals make that peace a reality in their own simple lives, how, indeed, can we see it manifest around us?
I now know for certain that peace is possible and I see that if it can manifest in my life, it can happen for anyone. In my view, the revolution I wanted to be part of, decades ago, continues, stronger than ever. I feel so very fortunate to still be here, and still be a part of it.