Remarks delivered by Lewis Randa at the “History in the Making: Honoring Peace Champions” event at the Pacifist Memorial, Sherborn, on August 1, 2021
We gather before the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, its six walls of remembrance, surrounded by memorial stones to Unknown Civilians Killed in War, Victims of Violence and and the Cremation Cemetery for Conscientious Objectors — to once again perform the ritual, begun in 1994, of installing commemorative bronze plaques at The Pacifist Memorial.
This place, I’m sure many of you would agree, is as much a state of mind as a physical location — it’s a place we can return to in our meditation or take a pilgrimage to, as countless people have, from far and wide, to read these short selected writings from great peace activists.
This Memorial was created by The Peace Abbey and Life Experience School to celebrate, preserve and enshrine the memory of courageous women and men who dared to embrace the fragile and oftentimes contentious notion that peace is not only possible, but possible through peaceful means.
This implies an acceptance, a willingness to compromise when necessary, to sacrifice and suffer when required —here we find a monument to that imposing edict, “it is better to endure violence, in pursuit of peace, than to inflict it.”
We human beings have walked too long on the path of conflict, lain too long, as Maya Angelou said in her Inaugural poem, “face down in ignorance, [our] mouths spilling words armed for slaughter”.
Our propensity as a nation, and as a people, to kill our way to get our way is an affront to both God and our common humanity. It stands at odds with our divinely inspired capacity to love one another. If nothing else, this Memorial to pacifism here in Sherborn is testimony that we haven’t given up believing that love and non-violence can and will win out.
With its inspirational quotations and prayers of peace of the major faith traditions of the world, this Memorial expresses, unlike any other place on earth, humanity’s gratitude to the often misunderstood and much maligned tradition of nonviolence and pacifism.
So how did this place come about, we’ve been asked. The idea and concept of the Pacifist Memorial was in response to one of President Kennedy’s lesser known remarks at the United Nations in1962, when asked by a reporter, when will the scourge of war end? our young president responded, “War will cease to exist when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today”.
If we are guilty of anything, surely it is taking seriously his words, as we take seriously the insistent calling to do something to bring an end to the scourge of war. What if? we asked ourselves, there was a pacifist memorial next to the war memorial, as we have here in Sherborn, in every city and town in America, elevating the reputation and prestige of those who conscientiously opposed violence to settle disputes. What if? We’ll my friends, you have to start somewhere, and the best place, as we know, is always where you are, and that place just happened to be Sherborn.
Yet for me personally, this place is more than that, it is where I come to reflect on my life’s journey and the impact Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and all these extraordinary peace activists who plaques grace these walls have had on my generation and on me.
It’s where I and many of you come to reconcile ourselves to a world that stubbornly denies the moral authority of non-violence and the persuasive power of love — a world that habitually clings to the nearly universally accepted and misguided catastrophe of force and violence that war brings. Gandhi put it this way,
“ I object to violence because the good it appears to do is only temporary, the evil it does is permanent.”
So we come back to this place, those of us who wish to nurture our pacifist nature, like Vietnam Vets do when they return, time and again, to that long black marble wall that stretches out, in tearful silence, in our nation’s capital that lists and honors fallen soldiers. Here too we honor those who have died, either through an assassin’s bullet or a bulldozer in Gaza or natural causes — those honored here sought to right wrongs the peaceful way — as they sought not to become the evil they were resisting. And so we come to this place in the little town of Sherborn to try to make sense of it all: To rebuild. To reconcile. To recover.
I’d like to conclude my remarks with the words Amanda Gorman so eloquently spoke in her Inaugural Poem, THE HILL WE CLIMB.
And I’d like to ask my grandson Charlie to join me as our pandemic project together this past year was to memorize her poem.
Let the Globe, if nothing else say this is true, that even as we grieved we grew, that even as we hurt we hoped, that even as we tired we tried.
And she concluded by saying “when day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, the new day blooms as we free it, for there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it, if only we are brave enough to be it”.
Thank you all for coming here today. I hope that you will treasure this experience and hold it deep in your heart so you will never feel alone and unsupported in your daily peacemaking efforts. This place belongs to you.