There had been all kinds of protests before the war and just as the war had started, and on his way to attending them, he had felt like a man of the world, full of feeling for the place halfway around the world where the war was intended for, wanting to show to the people there that they were not forgotten about, that their lives waking up in the morning and walking in their streets and going home were not forgotten about, and giving dignity to their lives like that, he was able to see it all around him as well.
And he had not thought that being a man of the world would stop a war, but there had been so much peace created along the way that it was still a surprise to wake up one morning and think: war. It was still a surprise on the two-year anniversary of the war, a day when there was a protest scheduled.
It was easy to think that there was something failed about a protest now. Before the war, it had been effortless: A man woke up in the morning, smiled at the sun, said hello to children, and went downtown and tried to stop a war. He had been operating in alignment with the world, a very easy and evident alignment, because usually that alignment was hardest to find among thousands of people. But those protests had had it, as though there was nothing better that a large group of people could be doing with respect to the sun, or with respect to the rain if it was raining.
It was as though everybody had been pretty sure that they stood on the side of peace, and then going down there and seeing everybody else, they had felt certain of it. And he kept thinking of how they had stood there without needing to see the alternative. They didn't need to see war because they already knew how they felt about it, and it was wonderful to be proactive about it. We have seen this before, they were saying, and we respectfully decline. The respectfulness was something on their faces, not directed so much at their leaders as at life. There was an awful lot of respect for life there.
It was easy to think there was something less urgent about a protest now that the war had started. It was a day with a war happening far away, just like hundreds of days had been. He had thought about it every day, and he had gotten it inside him, where the real work of protest took place. He'd had to get war inside him in order to get peace inside him. It was the kind of peace that he could walk around with. He didn't need a specific protest for it. He could just as well go to his friend's apartment in the Richmond District of San Francisco on the morning of the protest to help him move to his new place in North Beach, and there would be plenty of peace. There would be peace in moving out of the old place and in driving through the city and in moving into the new place.
There would be all kinds of it. And even the peace that smiled at the prettiness of the new neighborhood, as far away as it was from neighborhoods that had been destroyed by war, neighborhoods that he had read about and seen pictures of, that was part of it too, because pretty was pretty. That was the nice thing about peace, was that it was easily transferable.
But after they had finished, he thought of how it was there – the march had finished, but they would still be there in the square in front of City Hall for a while. That was the part of it he liked the best, everybody gathered in one spot, himself walking among them and wanting to look at every single person because everyone there had peace inside them and knew that they did too. Every one of them had enough peace inside them to match a war. If it were otherwise, they wouldn't be there. Everyone came to the place already filled with peace. They didn't need confirming of it the way that war needed confirming: They could have stayed home and there would still have been peace inside them too. But coming together was a chance to demonstrate it. It was a demonstration towards the war, but it was towards life too, whether there was a war or not.
The thing was the place itself. He had been to all kinds of places looking for life, and he had found it at his desk, but a city square with a protest against a war was a pretty good one. He could not speak as to the efficacy of it. He knew that there was a history of efficacy, that people had come together in city squares in all kinds of places and all kinds of times, and that it had had great effect, his father having told him stories of it from their own country. It had been the place he was looking for for his father, and he had gone as though he did not care if it was the last place he ever went, which it had been for a lot of people, in his country and in a lot of other places. That was not going to be the case today, but it was good to be part of that tradition.
How many times in his life he was going to get a chance to go somewhere where people were making an open declaration for peace was something he didn't know. A chance like that was a rare thing, however much he might be declaring it on his own each day. It was unfortunate that it took a war to get everyone together like that, but once he was there, it could have been any of the wars ever fought that they were there for. It could have been the war inside themselves that they were protesting, and that was the one time when he could see outwardly that they were engaged in the same activity as he, and he could walk among them smiling because they had already accomplished peace, just by being there. They had already accomplished the peace of admitting war, admitting that it was a thing to be a little torn up about. That was the most peaceful thing there could be – an acceptance of the pain of war. That was as much a reason for going down there as anything else, being around others who were accepting it.
How am I supposed to not go down there, he thought, when they have gathered for principles such as these? And he told his friend on the way back to drop him off at the square. There was a feeling of peace as soon as he said it. Anywhere else they might have gone in the city would have been more peaceful if peace were something that was limited to them. If peace were something a man could have in quiet house with a war raging outside, then it wouldn't matter where they went. If it were something that depended on whether or not they were shooting at somebody and whether or not somebody was shooting at them, then there was no urgency to it at all. There might have been a time when peace could have been defined like that, but the funny thing was that at that time, all he'd wanted to know was what all this shooting was about. He had lucked out and had a chance to learn a little of what it was about without having to do any of it. But that was one of the things he kept thinking about at the protests, was all those guys who hadn't lucked out like that. He hoped that they knew that he was thinking of them.
It was for them that everybody at the square had gathered too. It was a ceremony commemorating them, whether anybody wanted to see it that way or not. Okay, nobody liked to see an upside-down flag or a funny picture of their leader – even the people holding those things up themselves, they were smiling now, but it wasn't going to be a smile when they got home, not late at night in bed – but it was a commemoration because everybody had gathered to say that as much as this thing had been a part of history, and as much as nobody really knew what history books would look like without wars, still they could start with today.
And to the question of what man was going to do instead, what he was going to do instead when he wanted things as much as he did, they were saying: I don't know. I don't know, but this is pretty nice for today, isn't it? A day of it was no small thing. It deserved to be in the history books as much as a day of war. It was a commemoration because they were saying to all those guys who hadn't lucked out that there had been as much glory in how they had lived as in how they had died. They didn't need to be reading their names on a wall to be commemorating them. They were commemorating them by living, by living with the notion that there was something else that man could do with his time alive, even if they didn't know what it was. He couldn't go to a peace march every day, but he could keep them going whether there was a war or not. They didn't even need to have to call it a peace march. Just have everybody come down to the square, and tell them stories of the past. If they were told well, that would be a peace march enough.
He didn't know if he had been sent to his desk by that same notion, to write stories of his own past and everybody's, but it was an awfully peaceful place. It was the place where he had first learned about peace, where he had learned that it began with the peace between a man and himself. Once he had learned that, it had been easy. It was the hardest thing in the world, but it was easy too. It was the same thing down at the march, peace was so hard most of the time, it was good to have some moments when it was easy too.