copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
It happened once, twice; I trust the third time could not charm me more. I have witnessed the power of a gesture, one made without words. I have seen the light that glows when people connect in quiet ways. Now experienced on more than one occasion, I have come to appreciate the peaceful power of consistent communication. I had not fully acknowledged what could be accomplished until I arrived on the scene, alone. Then I saw it. I felt it. I could hardly believe that a single steadfast individual, could convey a message without words, and still receive such a resounding response. Yet, while there, it occurred. I was struck by what had not been apparent for near a decade. The stance of a quiet soul, stated calmly, clearly, and with care, can move more persons than I ever imagined.
Perchance, reliability is the reason. Indeed, I know that advertisers say a message when reiterated establishes credibility, familiarity, and becomes the first thought when a need is realized. The accepted business standard is “The importance of repetition in advertising is huge.” However, I am not in business. I have no product to sell, no services to offer. All that I wish to produce is peace.
As I said, this tale began years ago. I started to stand vigil at a local South Florida Peace Corner. I have continued to do so for years. Indeed, I still do. Long ago, many of us actively sought global harmony. Today there are far fewer. We are fortunate to have six persons frequent the scheduled Saturday events I am one who, in a fifty-two week period, misses only a handful of demonstrations.
Even with just a few demonstrators, we do what we have done for all this time. With signs in hand, we proclaim our desire for peace. Most stand on the Southwest, shady side of a busy intersection. I, on the other hand, place myself at the Northwest curbside. I choose to stand alone.
I do not wish to converse with my fellow activists when I am at, what for me is, a sacred service. I prefer to engage the persons who pass me by. Hence, I walk across the road, hold high my hand painted poster, and present the peace sign to those who pass me. In the traditional form of a thumb crossed under the upraised first and second fingers, whilst the ring and pinky digits are curled into the palm of my hand, I greet people with the written words, “Love! Not War. Love! Audibly, I thank each individual who silently, with a V-sign gesture, or a beep, shares the sentiment.
When the weekly ritual began, it appeared there was ample support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Combative causes were believed to be apt. That is for most. Tranquil beings thought the actions were an anathema. Those outspoken on the subject took to the streets. It was discovered that many who walked by, or drove past, were inspired to participate. A few would exit their automobiles and ask, “Might I join you.” Others, out for a stroll, would stop, chat, and then say, “I am with you.” Literally, these people often would look for a poster, or make one with whatever was available.
Thus, a collection of signs was created. Anyone who wanted to show solidarity for soldiers and civilians in harms way, could grab one. Concerned citizens came weekly and then, more so in the last 365 days, they did not. I however, cannot forego what for me is a commitment. I promised myself I would walk the path towards peace. Hence, each Saturday, I leave my home and head to the Corner.
A smaller congregation did not affect me, or so I thought. Unexpectedly, the sign situation brought a newer reality and the realization I now share. While I did not stand with others, I was not alone. Nor was I totally separate from the tranquil throng. I always understood that my fellow protestors and I were connected; however I thought the bond was but peripheral.
I was more aware of my relationship with passer-bys. The people who looked at me as I glazed upon them were meaningful to me. They still are. We commune. I, without distraction, or conversation, focus on the eyes of every being who walks, rides a bicycle, or drives by. Slowly, over time, I learned to recognize a few regular travelers. These individuals became known to me, and me to them. Admittedly, we knew each other only as faces who frequently smiled and waved. Some met me with scorn. Nonetheless, for me, life was good! Isolated in my little world on the North side of the street was wondrous.
At least it was, until two weeks ago. Each week, I walk to the Peace Corner. I need the exercise. A back injury necessitates brisk strolls, besides a workout clears the mind and air. Also, I prefer to be environmentally conscious. Therefore, I am not the one who carries a very large and heavy bag of signs. Someone with a vehicle has always been the provider of posters. Granted, over the years, the signs have been transferred from one carrier to another and then, back again. Since my situation prohibits participation in this exchange, I am not considered a prime candidate for the traditional banner swap.
Consequently, if I arrive at the Peace Corner before others I can choose to wait for a sign, or do as I did recently. Cross the intersection. Go to what I think of as my own littler Peace Corner. Extend my digits in the sign of a V and hope people respond. In the past when I thought to do this, the need was quickly dashed. The person with the signs arrived.
Only once did I have to wait more than mere minutes. On that rainy day, I had an automobile. I drove to a store, purchased poster board and markers, then made my own banner. On that day, as in all the weeks and years before, I was convinced only words would work to communicate my vision. I thought I understood what is true in South Florida and how that might affect my “audience,” the people who passed by it in a car, on a bicycle, in a wheel car, or only on two feet.
Be it amongst the peace people, or those who travel the streets of Florida, the community changes. When the weather is warm, the Everglades State looks somewhat empty. When it is cold in the North, people journey south. Thus, those I see each Saturday are not necessarily neighbors, friends, or family. Likely, I will never meet a Jane, John, José, Juanita, or others, who sees me at the Peace Corner. Janeka and Jared are just as anyone else, a blurred vision who enters and exits my life before we can truly connect.
Conversations at the crossroads, while welcome, are rare. To those who travel ’round the block, I am but a person who stands on the street on Saturday’s with a sign that reads, “Love! Not War. Love!” Even to some of those who once gathered at the Peace Corner, I may only be the woman, dressed in all white, who occupies the Northwest curb. Yet, surprisingly to me, on two occasions now, that might has been enough to inspire a thought, to evoke a response, and to energize persons who have not seen me before.
As of today, twice, on a Saturday, I walked to the Peace Corner and discovered I was alone. The bag of signs, and other activists were absent. After minutes, still no one appeared. I wondered; what would I do. In each instance, without a word, I crossed to the Northwest side of the juncture. I held up my fingers in the sign of peace, as I moved with traffic.
I looked at those who trekked South, and persons who passed going west. I hoped for a sign of support and acknowledgement. I found much!
As I experienced the energy, I contemplated the characteristic concept of messaging. Research reveals, the message, at least in advertisements, is said to be “irrelevant.” While I, personally, think the term is troublesome, for I trust that all aspects of an issue or a statement are important, the theory put forth was, for me, fascinating.
Public announcements, pronouncements, or promotions “which were low on emotional content had no effect on how favourable the public were towards” the product, the person who proposed a practice, even if the poster, or visual proclamation “was high in news and information.” In other words, my statements, the phraseology painted on my sign, was, relatively speaking, insignificant in the scope of what occurred.
What mattered more was the emotionally charged subject, the sight of a sensitive soul who silently stands vigil for peace. Consistency counts. I faithfully appear each week, stand in the same spot, and offer the identifiable hand symbol. Also, I choose to carry a single sign week after week, month after month, and year, after year. I always remain calm, and quiet. I am never confrontational, and possibly, it is significant that more often than not, I stand unaccompanied. For Saturday memorials held in homage to global harmony, I dress in nothing but white. The hue recognizably represents peace. Dye duplication, I discern, accentuates the theme.
However, what I had not considered may be more important. The subject I broach evokes emotion, as does my manner. I thank all who acknowledge me with kindness. Since my focus is on faces, and not on conversations with my peers, I can and do involve myself, or my the medium, which, as Mister McLuhan would offer, is an extension of me in “human affairs.” My more recent enterprise, sans placard, introduced the novelty that could affect attitudes. If nothing else, it was noticed. An abundance of people expressed appreciation for someone small in stature, who stands on a street corner only to show support for the notion of peace.
For so long I believed my signage was my strength. Now I realize that other nuances speak more loudly than the written word. The subjects of War and Peace are emotional ones. Others who observe a little lass, dressed in white, who waves with love in her eyes might choose to empathize, to express exasperation, or to take no notice of a reality they wish to escape.
The effects are palpable, as are the feelings, those of the individuals who respond to the message, and my own.. My presence is familiar to regular travelers. My visible commitment may cause them to comment or counter. Subtlety might have been the more significant statement to those not acquainted with my weekly pilgrimage. I cannot be certain why people react as they have.
Nonetheless, I now understand, all that I trusted to be true might not have been. The weight was not in the words I had boldly painted on my poster board. It is as Marshall McLuhan understood all along. “it is only too typical that the “content” of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.” As McLuhan’s acumen screamed, “The medium is the message.”
The words in my written communication were never the motivator. These were but an inspiration, an invitation, and a confirmation. In ”War and Peace in the Global Village,” published in 1968, Mister McLuhan presented a collection of epigrams and pictures. He offered the possibility, that “war is an involuntary quest for identity.” Perchance, a peaceful action is as well. People may find their sense of self in an opportunity to speak to world harmony. If true, that would be the charm,
I trust that peace on the planet may not appear on a first, second, or third trial. Nonetheless, I have faith that the light that glows when people connect in quiet ways will come. I have seen it, once, twice, and maybe this week, it will come again.
The medium. The message. The references . . .
Please peruse, if you choose, other progressions towards tranquility . . .