Pedaling for Peace
On April 15, 2012 I started riding my bicycle cross-country from Jacksonville, Florida in voluntary support of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) and the work of author and Peace Leadership Director for the NAPF, Paul K. Chappell. By July 4th, I had covered over 1300 miles to just west of Luling, Texas where a major mechanical failure brought this first stage of my cross-country journey to an end. After storing my bicycle and trailer with my aunt and uncle in Weatherford, Texas, I flew from Dallas to Santa Barbara, California to attend the NAPF First Annual Peace Leadership Summer Workshop. I then lived and worked in Santa Barbara for several more months before I returned to Jacksonville and sold off the rest of my possessions that I could to help fund a continuation of my journey. Starting June 8, 2013 and ending August 9, 2013, I rode from Weatherford, through 400 miles of the central Texas hill country, including Austin, Texas, back to Luling. It was at this point that a friend of mine invited me to work for a brief period in Pennsylvania before flying me back to Santa Barbara where I am now working to become a more permanent resident. I continue volunteering for the NAPF as well as for the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. Overall: It's been an amazing journey - one I hope to continue and finish at some point in the future - but, for now, I am taking the time I need to settle down for a while in the sunny South Coast!
Thursday, August 23, 2012
So...Still here in Santa Barbara.... : )
Walking to and from the NAPF offices most days, I have come to notice how tall the hedges are around some people's houses. They've become so tall in some cases that anyone on the sidewalk can't even see the houses on the other side. In other words, the hedges have completely walled in the house.
I imagine that the hedges were not always that tall. They were probably more like the height of a picket fence when they started out, but they've kept growing taller and taller over the years, and the home owners have let them. I can imagine, maybe decades ago, neighbors actually interacting with each other from either side of those hedges, complimenting each other's homes and gardens, talking about the latest current event, or new family that's just moved in down the road.
But not now. No, I don't see how there could be any interaction at all. The tenants of these houses move from the "box" of their home, to the "box" of their car, to the "box" of their work cubicle, and back again, never having to interact with their Neighbors, the people living closest to them, at all, if they don't want to. They don't have to know that there is a poor woman living around the corner who is struggling to raise her daughter alone, and is often so frustrated that she is inclined to yell at the child rather than patiently instruct her. They don't know about the couple with the beautiful black and white Great Dane who walk past their house every day. And they don't know that one of their neighbors has taken in a temporary boarder, who also walks past their house every day on her way to the NAPF offices downtown! : )
No, those hedges have come to insulate them, protect them, from their Closest Neighbors, and even from Reality Itself.
To me, these hedges are kind of like all of our current national "defense systems" - they've just kept growing and growing over the years. Much like all of the "things" we tend to accumulate in this world, they build bigger and bigger walls between ourselves and others, and ourselves and reality, and, maybe most importantly, ourselves and the threat of change and especially the changes of death. Supposedly, they are making us more, and more "secure", but the problem is we have simply grown more and more disconnected from other people, disconnected from reality, disconnected from death. In the absence of direct, experiential knowledge, fear arises and persists.
For instance, everyone likes it when love "feels good". There's that feeling that you get when you "fall in love" - that kind of ecstatic, blissful love feeling. There's the feeling of love that people have for their children, especially when they are newborns. There is the love that may be experienced just in a moment, in the pure pleasure of an intimate encounter. There is the love that exists between close friends and close family members; that love feels comforting and consoling, and brings with it feelings of security. There is the unconditional love we feel when being charitable to another being.
But how does love feel when someone doesn't love you back? Or when someone leaves a relationship before you are ready to let go? Or when someone dies? Especially if you loved that person deeply?
That's when love does not feel so good. That's when love and loving hurts. That's when it seems safer to love things, than it is to love people. Things generally do not reject you. Things do not grow legs and walk away on their own (although, they may still be lost in other ways, they certainly do not have the power to "walk away" as much as other people do).
Sometimes, in the midst of rejection or loss, the pain of loving others can make us hesitant to ever love again; we become afraid of change, afraid of loss, afraid to ever be that vulnerable to "The Wound of Love", again.
And yet, we live in a world of Constant Change and one of the greatest changes we will experience is our own death, and prior to that, the deaths of many whom we love, both human and non-human.
To love someone means we are also vulnerable to feeling their pain as our own.
For all these reasons I think people tend to avoid loving one another.
And they build "hedges" around their homes and around their hearts.
And yet, one of the things we human beings most want to be able to do is to give and receive love.
So, that means we must overcome our fears of rejection, of loss, and of death. Most of all, death - because death is inevitable for ALL of us at one point or another.
As I have been struggling to find my own way in this world recently, essentially jobless (except for writing this blog?), and homeless, I have been counseled to look into possible VA benefits (since I am a Navy Veteran), or other social services. As I explained to one friend recently, I have philosophical issues with being supportive of or supported by the "welfare system" of this country I live in. In effect, I have become, a "non-statist", in spite of the fact that "the State" continues to exist all around me. I have acknowledged on the most fundamental level that the actual costs of being part of such an inherently violent system are far, far greater than the benefits.
Furthermore, I really, really believe that as individuals and communities we need to learn to rely on each other more voluntarily and directly rather than relying on "the government" to mediate what should be caring, mutually supportive, relationships. In effect, "the government" is yet another Very Big "Hedge", and like the hedges around some of the houses here in Santa Barbara, it has just kept Growing and Growing. But can it really ever be "Big Enough" to protect us from the reality of suffering and Death? And that applies to both the "rich" and...the rest of us!
You see, when we are not in direct contact with the people who are suffering and even dying, when we can pay our taxes and let "someone else" be there for them instead of ourselves, then we can protect ourselves from the hurt we might otherwise feel. When "the government" takes care of the poor, and the sick, the mentally ill and the aged, that means We don't have to. We don't have to suffer the very human "Wound of Love" through the empathy we might otherwise experience if We were Actually In Relationship with those people.
The problem is...so many people suffer and die, very often alone, because no matter how much we may pay in taxes, there will never be enough "other people", other "government employees" to go around to take care of those people.
But there Are Enough of US to go around For Each Other.
Part of my being on my bicycle, really outside of "the system" for the first time in my life, (and, by the way, really Free, for the first time in my life) was to conduct an experiment. I wanted to see if my friends, family, and even strangers were willing and able to support me voluntarily and directly as I undertook the mission to ride my bicycle across the country and share the message of Peace that has been so eloquently spelled out in Paul Chappell's books and embodied in the mission of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
As of right now, I can say that experiment has been partially successful. I have been officially "un-employed" for well over a year now. I was able to get about half the distance across the country by bicycle and the rest of the way by plane. However, over the last month or so, as I have indicated in previous posts, I have gotten enough support to stay here, and provide for my food, etc., but not enough to leave (i.e. fly back to Texas), or enough to consider re-starting my bike trip. It is easy to see the glass "half-empty", but I can also see it as "half-full". And I really am grateful to every person who has offered their support thus far. They are part of the "success" of my journey.
I can also feel that they are with me during this more challenging time, one that I have yet to see my way through completely.
So what needs to happen for things to change?
The way I see it, the only thing We have to do is to confront our own fears of change and death, and get to a place where we can Simply Love One Another and Take Care of One Another, Directly, and in each of those moments be vulnerable and willing to suffer The Wound of Love. As Terry Gorski said, "We have to see reality for what it is with little or no denial," and as Jesus said, we have to "...love our neighbors as ourselves."
And I will add, that means we have to start Trimming Back Our Hedges.....! : )