For a decade or so I’ve been taking part in peace vigils behind Cleveland’s iconic West Side Market with about a half-dozen fellow travelers on the overcast, bumpy, but occasionally sun-dappled road to peace. Saturday’s experience, July 10th, was unusual for three reasons. First, a man with a camera asked if he could take my picture. Such a request has not happened for a while. Turns out the photographer, Brian, is an art history major at Kent State University and he wanted a photo of yours truly to add to his portfolio for a class assignment. As he approached, he said to me, “You’re the best-looking one here,” comparing me to my fellow peaceniks. (blush, blush). I thanked him and noticed gray in his chin whiskers. He is “of a certain age” and is the oldest student in his class at Kent. When I gave him my perspectives about war and peace he said “Nixon had ended the draft so I was subject to the lottery.” He indicated it was a very worrisome time for him. Like white knuckles all the time, but Brian never was required to join the military. The lottery did not work against him. He confessed that he didn’t “know how to draw, didn’t know how to paint, but I can push the shutter button on a camera.” So he decided to concentrate on photography, grappling with the challenges of an unfamiliar digital camera, taking several photos. We had a very pleasant conversation while his wife stood by but I thought it very odd that she had her back to us the entire time. I never saw her face. I can only guess that I in my U.S. Army uniform and holding a peace flag did not sit well with her. Oh, well.
After the vigil, I headed over to Koffie Cafe on Market Street for lunch. After I crossed West 25th Street, a man stopped me to chat. He appreciated my message, saying he had served in Afghanistan for 12 years. Soon, an elderly man–okay, he was probably about my age–rode up on a bicycle and stopped to commiserate. Turns out he is a homeless Vietnam veteran staying at the City Mission on Carnegie Avenue, near East 55th Street. I asked him how he likes it there and he said, “It’s okay.” He also appreciated my message. I said to the Afghanistan war veteran, “Some people say we have to have war before we have peace.” He said, `That’s not true.” I said, “If we never had war, wouldn’t we always have peace?” The gentlemen agreed, of course.
The third and final encounter of the afternoon occurred while sitting at a sidewalk table with about a half-dozen fellow peaceniks. A woman walking by, noticing my uniform, stopped and rhapsodized about my service to our country, blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada, ending with “God bless America.” It was classic, mindless, dumb, stupid jingoistic rhetoric. I simply thanked her. That’s all. I regretted later that I did not make it clear to her that I hate war and am a member of Veterans for Peace. I regretted not getting up and retrieving my furled peace flag resting next to a flower box in front of a Market Street Wine Bar window, unfurling it and noting her reaction. I’ll remember to do that next time.