This is the Peace Prayer Pole in the Fairhaven district of south Bellingham, Washington.
Bellingham has a great trail system. I live minutes from one of the main trails in the city. Often I’ll use the trail system to walk down to the estuary and say a prayer for peace. Usually I’ll use “Please help me be at peace so that I may work for peace on behalf of all peoples….” Then I’ll look at the water and continue on my way.
Yesterday, after I made this request, I stepped to the railing and looked down to the water. Someone had thrown a shopping cart into the deepest part of the stream channel right at the edge of the estuary. This shopping cart is from a supermarket about a mile away; the person also had to lift it above the level of the railing and drop it into the water.
Additionally, someone – likely the same person – recently wrote in thick black marker “LIFE IS A TERMINAL DISEASE” and “EVERYTHING YOU DO WILL BE INSIGNIFICANT” in large block letters. I recoiled from these acts of rebellion and petty despair.
I could write at length about the loathing and self loathing present in the person who performed these petty acts of despair or rebellion; however, I think that largely misses the point. The person clearly needs connection, hugs and love. Some community service would help this person heal.
The larger point is “What do we do with what we are given?” Attitude is key.
I thought: now, let’s reverse the order of this first statement to “A TERMINAL DISEASE IS [STILL] LIFE.” I thought about my Dad’s tools and his collection of draw planes. I could use one to carve the letters “in” away, leaving “EVERYTHING YOU DO WILL BE INSIGNIFICANT.”
Later I walked up to the supermarket and informed the assistant manager that a supermarket shopping cart was in the creek bed and told him where it was. We agreed that it will be tricky to retrieve it, but it can be done.
Everything we do will be significant. We do what we are called to do and what we can do. Significance of the acts will vary in import, but the individual act itself will send out ripples.
What kinds of acts? Smiling at people. Greeting people. Building bridges and making connections. Picking up trash, aluminum cans or bottles along a trail. Encouraging a friend in her job search. Giving a person a hug. Offering to take a picture for visitors. Feeding the hungry. Caring for the vulnerable. Tutoring. These are simple things we do; these things are essential.
You say “Andy, I sat on the couch last night and veged out. What’s significant about that?” OK, work with me here! You were recharging your batteries. You held your wife’s hand while you were watching that movie; you held your boyfriend’s hand whle you were watching that sitcom. You petted your cat; you played with your dog. These are forms of connection and are essential to our wellbeing and that of others.
Today I walked down to the estuary and saw that the cart was still there. Soon I’ll inform the corporate office of the supermarket chain (I won’t mention any names of employees I spoke with) and public works.
Finally, I want to give a shoutout to the generous and loving act of creating the “Peace Prayer Pole” and having it placed in Fairhaven. I don’t know the story of how it came to be in Fairhaven. However, it is awesome and it continues to send out ripples and hopes for peace.