This 4th of July, I took a personal pilgrimage to Washington DC. My plan was simple. I wanted to pray and meditate in DC on our nation's birthday. But what to pray for? What to pray about?
If we wish for peace, don't we have an obligation to look for the obstacles to peace and pray about that? If we wish for a healthier national dialogue, don't we have an obligation to explore our judgments and our fears and our assumptions? I went with questions like these.
Early in the morning, I had coffee with Egyptian immigrants who were going to be selling hot dogs and ice cream near the capitol. Later that day, I sat quietly and meditated facing the White House, as up-scale Chinese tourists took selfies with the WH in the background.
I sang and walked with Resist for part of the day. I visited Mr. Lincoln and touched the names of the young men and women who died in my generation's war, the Vietnam War. At the peak of the day, I walked with scores of Americans of all shapes and sizes and colors; in saris and in American flag themed shirts. People were cooling off their overheated family members with ice cubes and cool drinks as the parade of singers and bands from around the country proudly marched. I went to the African American Cultural Museum to learn about the great debt this country owes to the enslaved people who built it and farmed it and empowered our first thriving economy. I walked thru that museum with people of many colors and backgrounds, a group of Americans.
Every step a prayer.
On my last revolution around the Mall, I asked some of the National Guardsmen what I should pray for. Peace was the number one answer, followed by a sharp intake of breath around clenched teeth (as in: "Where should I begin?!"). After a while, I rejected the "peace" answer as lame and incomplete. Here are some of the responses:
"The insight and strength to do the next right thing"
"The easing of pain"
"Friendliness. These senators get along great until the cameras roll."
For myself, I mostly had a sense of opening to remorse; and a willingness to not defend my position, to feel regret and responsibility; and to look for the good in others. I will admit that my prayers failed at time. There are individuals for whom I could not find an opening to hope.
I take home with me a few faces and a few voices, a few smells and sounds, the sense of the breeze one feels when one sits quietly on a hot day. I stayed close to my heart - close to my wish - for the whole day. I come back with more strength and more resolve and a bit less grief.