Ashes by Patricia Kinney

I attend a peace rally in Sylvester Park on Wednesday afternoon and I am joined by a bunch of Catholics with ashes on their foreheads. I decided to join the rally at the last minute. Baby Tate still has boysenberry jam on his face from his afternoon snack. It looks as though it will rain so we have bundled up in fleece, long johns, gloves and snow hats. A woman walks toward us. She is wearing a white t-shirt with a large fluorescent orange peace symbol on the front. The shirt reads, "Don't kill innocent babies". I think to myself her shirt is probably left over from a pro-life march in December. Multi-purpose protest apparel.
 
Today the group is somber. There are only about 20 of us. There is one other child in a stroller. His mother has brought him little fish shaped crackers to snack on. I didn't bring any snacks. We gather near a vacant lot next to the park. The Catholics offer a litany of repentance and prayer for world peace. Give us a depth of soul. O God, to constrain our might, to resist the temptation of power, to refuse to attack the attackable, to understand that vengeance begets violence, and to bring peace - not war - wherever we go. I stare at the ground because it sounds too much like a prayer. I think about how long it's been since I've seen the inside of a church.
 
Earlier in the day I am at the gas pump and for the first time ever I think about my gas purchase as paying for war. My elementary school age sons say we should drive a smaller car. I asked them how I could get everyone to where they had to go if we had a smaller car, not a van. My 12 year-old son said his teacher told him people should drive what they feel like driving and use as much gas as they like. My 10 year-old son is worried about kids on a baseball field in Iraq getting hit by bombs dropped by US war planes.
 
A nun I recognize from my high school days is the leader of this group. I like the thought of her being an activist. Sister Mary Somebody tells us "Repent and be a sign of hope." Cars whirl by, tires hiss on the wet pavement. I look at my watch and wonder if we will be finished with our rally before the rush hour. Some passersby honk their support. A few glare at us and our signs. My sign reads, Give Peace a Chance. I had limited space and couldn't think of anything more witty. My son is getting fidgeting in his stroller. He sees the other baby with the crackers. This makes him angry. They make eye contact. The other child knows, even at such a young age, that he has something my son wants. He eats the crackers slowly, methodically. My son begins to cry.
 
I was too young to protest the Vietnam war and too busy to protest the Gulf War. My parents protested things like sewers, new water systems and school bond elections. They only took on global topics through prayer. When they bought a new family car in 1976, it had a pro-life bumper sticker on it that they left in place.
 
It takes planning to protest. I have to pack a diaper bag, make sure there is plenty of parking. Before the protest, I must go to the store and make sure there is something for dinner afterwards. I must get my sons to Little League practice before the protest.
 
I wonder what it would be like to be going about my daily business and all the sudden have bombs drop from the sky. Would I rush into the bookstore for cover. Would the people at the cleaners be calm or might it be better to find a random basement somewhere? When I was a kid I used to listen to airplanes flying overhead. I listened until I could not hear them anymore. It sounded as if their engines gave out. I used to imagine those planes dropping from the sky. Dropping from the sky into neighborhoods like mine.
 
I am bored and start to count the number of cars passing by. I've seen a few people I know. They looked surprised to see me out here with my baby. They will tell my mother and she will tell the rest of the relatives. There will be talk. I will be labeled a radical.
 
We were supposed to spell out No War or Peace with our bodies. At least that's what it said in the newspaper. No one has mentioned it yet. The sky gets darker, the trees begin to sway and it rains. The Catholics have ashes running down their faces.