Personal Voices: The Beauty Mark
I was in elementary school when I first defended the environment. Boys were breaking killdeer eggs they had found in nests behind the school playground. I was this tiny little thing, running after the boys with their egg-breaking sticks.
My first political awakening came in high school when we protested an outdated dress code. A year later, I bought a POW bracelet with the name of a soldier missing in Vietnam written on it. The bracelet itched, but I kept wearing it until the itch turned into a rash that turned into an open sore that turned into an infection. Then I took it off.
After college, I moved West. Our peace group in a small town in Oregon worked on the periphery of the sanctuary movement and brought in a speaker from El Salvador who was seeking asylum in the U.S. I listened to his stories of atrocities and wrote about him; at night I had nightmares. A local minister who had been in a concentration camp in World War II wrote editorials about how awful our peace group was, saying we were nothing but a bunch of peaceniks -- as if that were the worst epithet he could hurl at us.
I continued working on peace and environmental issues although I saw no evidence that I effected any change. It was exhausting living amongst people who did not cherish nature and did not want to work for peace and justice for all people.
Then 9/11 happened. Despite protests by millions of people all around the world, the United State government started a war with Iraq. Immigrants were arrested and held without charge and without benefit of lawyers; some were deported. Stealthily and in plain sight, the administration began eroding women's reproductive rights. Throughout the country, the right-wing has gotten over 300 laws passed restricting women's reproductive rights.
Recently, Karen Hughes, one of Bush's advisors, linked those of us who are pro-choice with the terrorists. In an interview with CNN, Hughes said that since 9/11 people value life more, unlike the terrorists who don't value life, their own or lives of the unborn.
On Sunday, over a million people marched in Washington, D.C. in support of women's rights. We had our own march where I live. As we walked around town, mostly silent, I thought of an interview I had recently seen with Democratic Congressman Barney Frank. He said people in Washington, the people in power, don't care about demonstrations. He said you don't see conservatives out demonstrating because they know it's useless. The problem with the left, Frank said, is that they don't vote. People will call him up and complain about something and then tell him they don't vote. He says, so why should I listen to them?
I am tired. I don't know if I've ever been this tired. I'm tired of not succeeding. I'm tired of being surrounded by warriors and hearing stories of people dying overseas in a useless war or dying here from diseases caused by a stressed and polluted environment. I don't know what will work any more. I don't know what to do.
Last year right after the war started, my landlord came in and butchered the front part of a pine in our back yard. After my husband and I removed all the junk from under the tree, a barren patch of ground remained. I went to a garden place, bought a beautiful statue of Kuan Yin -- a goddess of Peace and Compassion -- and put her under the tree. I found flat stones around the yard and made two paths leading up to her. I planted hostas and primroses. I put some bleeding hearts right next to the goddess. A hummingbird flew up to the bleeding hearts and stuck her long beak inside one of the flowers. I had lived in this house for three years and had never seen a hummingbird here before. I stood very still, watching this beautiful being and feeling honored to be in her presence.
I planted wildflower seeds in the Kuan Yin Peace Garden, too. Poppies made their way up through the acid and the needles, along with some chocolate mint I planted despite warnings it would take over. I imagined a takeover by chocolate mint. I could just see CNN reporting it, "The Chocolate Mint terrorists have now made their way to downtown Portland. People in the streets seem to be cheering them on." Fox News: "We are certain that the Bush administration is correct when it reports a vast amount of WMD are hidden within the Antieau Chocolate Mint patch..."
The Kuan Yin Peace Garden was beautiful, but I soon forgot about it as I entered another battle with a school across the street when they wanted to spray pesticides. When I lost that fight, I was on to another event to organize, another letter to write, another thing to do. People continued to die in Iraq, nothing got any better.
Then we heard last week that the town where I live -- where I moved to get away from the constant pesticide spraying in the rest of the county and state -- had decided to start using herbicides. I shrugged, too exhausted and sad to do anything about it. My husband made a few phone calls. Friends made a few calls. Something happened. I don't really know what. This morning, an official from the city walked over to the library where my husband works to tell him they had decided not to spray. The man said, "I never wanted to spray. I'll do it if I'm ordered to. But I'm glad we're not going to."
I went out to the Peace Garden this morning. I removed some pine cones and branches that had fallen into the garden. A beautiful coriander-colored spider with long legs and a tiny body rode the cheek of Kuan Yin like a living beauty mark. The hostas were coming up. Various wildflowers -- white, yellow, and blue -- were in bloom, having survived the acid soil to be resurrected this year. The bleeding hearts had not survived.
I will continue to try and figure out how best to do my work. But I plan to be still, too. Perhaps I shall endeavor to be a beauty mark on the cheek of the Peace Goddess. That will have to be enough for now.
Kim Antieau's latest novel, 'Coyote Cowgirl,' is out in trade paperback. Read her weblog, Furious Spinner.