NOTE: This copy is a very rough draft, so please do not spread it around overlymuch.
For purposes of evaluation, understabd that I see doing a great deal in Spanish, with exception of the story, Puebla (the majority of the audience will probably not be bilingual, and it would be important for them to understand the story.) A lot of it can be understood in context, and, in any event, there will be a bilingual program so that both monolingual Anglos and Hispanics will be able to understand the entire work. When the work is introduced, something can be said about English speakers getting an idea of what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land.
In the future, more can be done to make this work truly bilingual. But, one step at a time.
Thank you. — Daniel ben Avrám
Misa Universalista por el Pueblo
“Onward, Christian Soldiers”
Onward, Christian Soldiers, marching as to war
Christ the royal master leads against the foe;
Onward, Christian solders, marching as to war
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam.
Dona nobis pacem,!
Grant us grace and abundant peace. Amen.
“Sing To the Heart”
Imagine ... imagine ....
Imagine in our darkness shines a light with which we see
Imagine creating a world where people live as one;
Baruch ata Adonai,
“In the Stillness, Listen”
In the stillness of the morning,
Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen.
Listen to your heart's song. It will help you begin to see
Listen to your heart’s song. It will tell you who you are.
Listen to your heart song.
We draw our Invocation from Leonard Bernstein: “This will be our response to violence: To
make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
“Within the Center Of Your Heart”
From the depths I cry to Thee, O Lord.
I despair that ever shall I see Thy face.
Oft I feel the world turn into ice.
I but seek to learn how to forgive,
Lord, you came to live among us, mortal.
Kyrie, O Lord, have mercy (eleison.)
Christ, many times you lived, many times you died:
Christe, O Christ, have mercy (eleison.)
Lord, you will continue living, and dying until we get it right. “Eirana.”
Kyrie, O Lord, have mercy (eleison.)
“Eirana, eirana, eirana.”
* “Jesus spoke of peace using the Greek word ‘Eirana.’ He chose this word because it established
His peace as inner peace, peace dependent upon God in contrast to peace as the world
“As We Gather In This Sacred Place”
As we gather in this sacred place
As we gather in this sacred place
Liturgy Of the Word
“God Is the Word”
God is the Word and the Word is the seed in the garden;
Nurture the seed so that goodness may grow in the garden;
God is the word and the Word is the seed in the garden;
God is the Word and the Word is the seed in the garden;
Nurture the seed so that goodness may grow in the garden;
Reading of the Word
A reading according to the Book of Micah.
“Songs Of Micah”
And many nations shall go, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths;
For the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And he shall judge among many peoples and rebuke strong nations afar off.
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks;
Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God: shall I come before
him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy
“Psalm for Healing”
V’ yasaym l’ cha refuah hanefesh.
LORD my God, I cried to you,
V’ yasaym l’ cha refuah hanefesh.
LORD, you have brought up my soul from She’ol.
May the Lord, our God grant us healing of the spirit.
Sing praise to the LORD, you holy ones of his.
V’ yasaym l’ cha refuah hanefesh.
For his anger is but for a moment;
May the Lord, our God grant us healing of the spirit.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He restoreth my soul:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
Sh'ma [Hear], O Israel!
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, praise God!
And, seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness,
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, praise God!
We are called to be servants of God,
In Mexico, the 16th of September, el diez de septiembre is celebrated as their day of independence. Little attention is paid to Cinco de Mayo, except around the city of Puebla itself. It is sort of the reverse regarding Channukah, an event with much more significance to the Jewish people than the birth of a secular rabbi, a rabble rouser, named Jesus.
And yet, it is the event of the lesser significance that received the most attention in this country. I joke that it is probably because it is easier for gringos to say Cinco de Mayo than it is to say diez y seis de septiembre.
But much like the Bethlehemer who sought to free his people from the yoke of the Roman empire, el cinco de mayo celebrates a group of ragtag, underarmed Mexicans defeating the greatest empire in Europe!
And so it is actually that event that is universal in its significance. And so, in our lesson today, we took to Puebla, site of the Batallia de la Republica.
Like other parables, it is a true story, at least its elements are true. I went to Hemet High school and loved to hike up to the peak of Mt. San Jacinto. I did go to a private school in Baja California, and I did go to the University of Guadalajara the summer before my freshman year.
Most fantastical of all, there was an actual pacifist army, 100,000-strong, of Pashtun tribesmen, united by a fellow named Abdul Ghaffar Kahn, know as the “frontier Gandhi” and called the Khudai Khidmatgar, or “servants of God”.
And, like my doppleganger, the Old Man, I am eminently capable of unthinkingly (or even thinkingly) doing things for the right reasons that cause more harm than good.
Our story is a classic “What if?”
My given name is Daniel Beck Zwickel.
The Zwickels of Galicia were not the bearers of a name so noble as, say, the Duke of Orange or as elegant as the Spanish Granadas (which means pomegranate.) No, we were the turnip Jews. Family history has is that Zwickel is not our original name and somewhere back before the time of the patriarch, Leybush Zwickel, we had something to do with turnips.
Well, suppose Leybush lived, not in Austrian Galicia, but the Galicia of, say, a Franco-Hungarian empire with France as le Grande Fromage of nineteenth century Europe – might his name not have been Leybush Navet (which is turnip in French)? So, then, Leybush begat Abraham who begat my grandfather, Chayim who called himself Charles.
Suppose Charles Navet and his young bride emigrated, not through Ellis Island to America’s Brooklyn, but to a thriving, cosmopolitan, tolerant Paris and my father, Abraham, and his brothers and sisters were raised in the cultural Mecca that would have nurtured some of the greatest writers and artists the 20th century would know?
My mother, Jean, received her degree from the Sorbonne at the University of Paris. She and my father could easily have met in a café – he, a dashing young Parisian Jewish intellectual, she, bright, vivacious, willful and independent and lovely enough to cause such a dashing young man to think impure thoughts.
But then something went horribly wrong. Not the Huns, but the arrogant French precipitated the “Great War” and it was they who got their arses whupped by the good guys and humiliated at Munich into signing the treaty of that name and so a now impoverished France became the petri dish which would cultivate its own little fascist monster by the name of Jacques leNoire who, lacking the efficiency of the Germans, only succeeded in killing two million Jews before being defeated by the Allies.
Well, that was two million too many for the young Daniel, my father’s son and sole surviving Navet of the holocaust, who, not a pacifist, emigrated to the new Promised Land of Israel, there to mock the shades of his grandfathers and grandmothers by designing ever more elegant and efficient and effective weapons of mass destruction ’til his hands were drenched in the blood of his Semitic cousins, they, born on the “wrong” side of the progeny of Abraham.
Finally, heartsick and in retreat from the world and his bloody past, a wandering Jew among the hills of ancient Judea, a prematurely old Daniel comes upon some alien technology which, he discovers, can transport him back in time.
He has become a social historian of sorts and in search of a theoretical solution to the shambled horrors of the mid-twentieth century he has developed the “Nexus Theory” which suggests “nexi”, or points in time which could, if altered, impact dramatically on the course of history. His favorite is Puebla, Mexico, May 5, 1862, site of the famous Bataille de la République where cousin Napoleon III nearly got his arse whupped by the Mexicans before establishing the new Empire de la Mexique and that, my friends, is where our story is about to begin. But first, I will share with you an entry from this alternate Daniel’s journal, translated from the original Hebrew. It is dated January 8th, 1992 and begins thus:
I am an old man and I can no longer bear the pain. I carry the weight of too much history and too little humanity. Tonight I embark on a journey and leave this final journal entry more as a conceit than as a gesture to any reader as may come upon it– likely it shall cease to exist. I cannot say this for a certainty as I go the road never yet traveled, and so I leave this to a posterity which may or may not disappear in my absence.
In my mind’s eye I see a triumphant post-WWI France, a united States where now, for all practical purposes, three separate nations exist (four if you include the secessionist Western Territories); a single Spanish Mexico celebrating a fifth of May or cinco de mayo if you prefer, where the forces of Napoleon III under the Brigadier Charles Latrille, Compte de Lorencez were defeated hard by the “Cerros de Guadalupe y Loreto”, the twin forts of el General Ignacio Zaragoza.
For I believe the battle at Puebla to be absolutely pivotal. In a nutshell: The French lose. No more Mayan Dynasty, no Northern and Southern Mexico, French and Spanish biting and hissing and scratching like the British and the Irish, vainly attempting to hold together a country occupied by an absentee European landlord. The Confederate States, lacking the support of the French, lose their bid for autonomy, remain with a union of States with Louisiana but a sleepy backwater state rather than the trade nerve center of the continent. Perhaps the autonomous Western Territories forget their enmity over time and remain in concord with the Union. Such a mighty nation would easily help to defeat the Prussians.
Mexico would in all probability not be a factor at all, and without Northern Mexico, Louisiana and the Confederacy, Germany would stand not a chance in leNoir’s hell of defeating the French and its allies.
A triumphant France would not suffer the indignity of defeat leading to a massive economical collapse and an inflation where, literally, a wheelbarrow of francs is needed to buy a family’s groceries. And a Belgian half-Jewish carpenter son-of-a-whore would not rise as the savior of Royal France to send two million Jews to the ovens. You see, with a German defeat in WWI, a fat and complacent France would never entertain such a monster, and leave not so much as a stain in the path of history.
So tonight I intend to go after that Lieutenant whom I believe inspired the French to victory in 1862. I intend to bring along a few 20th century devices as insurance. I shall not return to Israel for in the absence of a Holocaust the need for a Zionist homeland should be sufficiently lessened as to leave Palestine the sleepy, peaceful land God intended it to be. I shall not miss my job with the Ministry of Defense, designing weapons with which to terrorize the Palestinians; I am sick to death of the blood on my hands. I shall not miss Israel and its fanatics.
I intend to jump only part way back to the second decade of this century and observe from a cantina somewhere in Baja’s La Paz, the Prussian defeat. Then contemplate the Torah with a shot of tequila in one hand and a Havana cigar in the other, in proper communion with the Master of the universe.
For the Germans will know better than to allow a dog like LeNoir to rise to power and goose-step across Europe with two million dead Jews in his wake. They are a people of culture, of industry and efficiency. Certainly they could better rebuild with vigor than the contentious and arrogant French. The Germans are a proud lot and their Jews are a partly a source of that pride.
And those two million of my brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews and cousins will die natural, peaceful deaths, far from the flames of war.
My chariot awaits. Peace shall be wrought in Puebla.
[Translated from the original Hebrew
Once upon a time I stood on the top of the world, or so it seemed to a Hemet High
School sophomore who enjoyed spending his summers trekking ten miles to the
peak of Southern California’s Mt. San Jacinto (“Mt. San Jac” to the locals.) If I
were 21 and so inclined, I could hike an hour or so back and take the tram a 40 degree
temperature jump down to Palm Springs and party. In fact, were I so inclined, I might want to get
royally plastered just on general principle. I have in my pocket a translation of some Hebrew I got
from an old man in La Paz a few years ago and to tell you the truth it scares the hell out of me.
I was an eleven-year-old kid full of frijoles and mischief and got myself purposely lost on a supply trip to La Paz, the capital of el Territorio de Baja California, Sur. My brother and I were kind of spoiled, my mother being a school teacher specializing in progressive private schools. So when my folks heard about this new one starting up in Baja, they must have thought it would be cool for my brother, David, and I to be their first guinea pigs, so (suckers!) they wound up financing the first nine months of Shimber Berris’ existence.
If you take the train down the mainland of Mexico to the city of Los Mochis, then by bus to the coast, you will end up in one of the loveliest towns the Mediterranean never had, called Topolobampo, terraced down to a bay I once saw filled with thousands of brilliant blue jellyfish. From there you would take a fishing boat called the Blanco which I would have named “Termites-Swimming-Like-Crazy” who were basically what kept us from sleeping with the fishes.
Sixty-five miles of desert scrub in an old Dodge army ambulance took us to the town of San Bartolo, home of an experiment I was too young and stupid to be nervous about. Founder, Dr. David Burden had been a missionary in Africa and had become the town doctor when he and his wife, author Virginia, had this bright idea.
Something immensely disturbing began that summer that supposedly connected with the death of six million Jews, if you believe in time travel.
So this gringuito was having too much fun to realize I really was lost, or to even worry about it. The Burdens were getting supplies and I managed to sneak away while they were looking the other direction. It was a typically blazing hot day; a radio somewhere was blaring the jingle, Tome Pacifico-¡y nada más! which sounded pretty good even though I didn’t particularly like beer. And the smell of a street vendor’s tamales reminded me that I was sin pesos (broke, loosely translated.) I turned toward the source and I saw this old man sitting at an outdoor café table.
At least he looked old – I mean really old, much older, I think, than he actually was.
He looked like a monk, like the skinny ones who thought that starving themselves made
them holy or something. Except he had an unlit cigar he was more chewing on than smoking, the
thin, almost meatless hand holding a shot of Tequila curiously steady. I may have had a kid’s
boundless energy but he made me bone-weary just looking at him, as if, were he to take just one
good siesta, he’d never bother even waking up. He was reaching to pick up the ancient fountain
pen next to a small leather book that looked like a diary when he noticed me staring. I got a bit
nervous, not to say embarrassed, and began to walk on when he reached one of those monk’s
hands toward me.
“Eh, ¡niño!” He continued (in Spanish, but a strange kind of Spanish that reminded me vaguely of relatives. Jewish relatives), “You look thirsty. Hell, you look lost. Let me buy you a Tamarindo and we’ll figure out how to get you back to whoever you belong to.”
Before I realized I’d decided to take him up on it, in my mind I was already slugging down a cold Squirt (¡Nunca le deja sed!)
“What’re those you’re writing? Some kind of code or something?”
My Spanish was pretty fluent by now but then he surprised me by replying in English. Now he sounded like my Jewish relatives, except more like French than Austrian.
“It’s Hebrew. That’s what we spoke in Israel.”
“Israel. That’s where all the Jews went. My father talks about moving there some times. How’d you know I was American?”
“Niño, you may sound Mexican but you don’t look it. Do you like to read?”
“What kinds of books?”
“Oh, science fiction mostly. You know, I used to live in Tarzana. It’s named for Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote all those Tarzan books. He wrote science fiction all the time. Once I even wrote a story about shrinking and discovering that atoms were tiny solar systems and discovering a new planet with its own civilization.”
“Aha! A writer, nu? How about time travel. Do you like to read about that?”
Suddenly the smile faded and he appeared about to collapse and he looked so sad I almost cried. I didn’t know what to say so I just sat there, sipping my Squirt. He seemed lost, distracted. Then he carefully screwed the cap back on the Waterman he had been using and clipped it in his shirt pocket. Funny, I just thought of that. It was a emerald-green, tortoise-shell Waterman. He went through the old leather notebook, pausing here and there.
“Six million dead,” he mumbled.
I distinctly heard him mutter, six million dead and it gave me goosebumps. I’m sure it was just a kid’s imagination but those words carried the smell, almost, of a large number of corpses. And I realized I was looking at a dead man in all but fact.
“You know what your name means in Hebrew?” I had told him my name was Daniel. I nodded. “The same as mine. God is your judge. Well, God is mine, too.
“So you like science fiction.”
He looked purposely through his journal and found the pages he was seeking, separating them from the rest, neatly folding them and handing them to me.
“I am through,” he said, more to himself than to me. “I am through.” He looked up and searched my eyes, then smiled fleetingly. “You know, by all rights those pieces of paper shouldn’t exist. Ah well. Have a good life, Daniel. Shalom.”
He rose and walked away.
My last impression of him as I heard Mrs. Burden’s exclamations upon discovering my
whereabouts was of the strangeness of his clothes. I hadn’t realized it before but they looked
somehow peculiar. They looked maybe European but somehow, well, different. And his shoes. I
had never seen anything like them.
So here I am on top of the world and I finally know what was on those pages.
My Philosophy class was having a section on comparative religions. A Catholic priest, a Methodist minister and a Buddhist monk had come in and later a Moslem and a Ba’hai would talk to us too but that day it was a rabbi and I couldn’t get those pieces of paper out of my mind.
I went up to him after class.
Soon after the dreams began.
When I was very young I used to believe that Hitler was still in power. I knew that I was Jewish, but only half Jewish, and that made a great difference. My folks don’t remember but I used to wonder, out loud, maybe, if I was safe because I was only half Jewish, if Hitler would leave me alone. Twenty years after the end of the war, a continent and an ocean away and that bastard still had that power over me.
So the dreams came, and I saw the marching and heard the speeches except Hitler was speaking not in German but in French. And behind the swastika-laden banners not Deutschland Über Alles but La Marseillaise. After several weeks I had one final dream.
I was in a cantina, I know, much like I imagined the cantina in San Bartolo to be (I never actually went inside one), with its wind-up Victrola blaring old rancheros and Saturday-night borracheros singing Canción Mixteca at the top of their lungs.
I was sitting at a table across the room from a fireplace and I saw him enter the room. He didn’t notice me; he saw the French soldiers sitting by the fire drinking cerveza and probably wishing it were cognac. I called to him.
He glanced my way, startled, then started toward the soldiers. He couldn’t have heard right.
“Monsieur, venez ici, s’il vous plait.”
Now the soldiers even noticed, but as quickly returned to their conversation. The man, however, stopped dead in his tracks.
“Qui et toi?”
“You don’t know me yet. Please come over here and join me.”
“You speak English. You are American?”
“¿Prefiere español?” (I usually like to switch languages just to be a smart-ass, but I was serious this time.) “My English is a lot better.”
By now he was approaching my table. I offered him a chair, called to the dueño for another cerveza. Sixteen and I’m ordering drinks for a stranger. But this is a dream, remember.
He sat down, but glanced nervously at the French several times a minute.
“How do you know my name?”
“I’ll explain. What year is this?”
“Alors..., mil, huit cent, huitonze, deux, je croix.”
“Yeah, 1882. That’s what you think. Please, look at me. Look at me! You need to see my eyes. It may be the only way you’ll believe me. And you must!
“You can’t do what you are about to do.”
“What do you.... How.... Incroyable!”
He abruptly rose to his feet and turned toward his original destination.
“1959. We will meet in 1959 in La Paz,” I said hurriedly. “We’ll talk about science fiction and time travel. You write in Hebrew in a leather notebook with a green Waterman fountain pen and you will give me the last three pages you wrote in your journal before you left 1992...”
The man turned back to me and fell back onto his chair.
“Tu sait trop, garçon. What I do is vital. I must....”
“You must listen to me, damnit! You come from 1992. You think that you can waltz into the past and change history for the better. How many Jews did Hitler... I mean, LeNoir kill? Two million? Ever hear of Hitler? Of course not. You guys were too busy in France to notice the Austrian scum. Believe me, Hitler will do your LeNoir four million better. I’m a Jew! I was born in 1948 but that son-of-a-bitch gave me nightmares six years and six thousand miles away. Six million of my cousins he sent to the ovens! Your tequila and your Havana cigars won’t give you much comfort as you sit in a café in La Paz and think about six million Jews.”
He looks at me hesitantly, glances at the French soldiers, start to speak and then falls silent.
“Please,” I say, softly, “you must believe me. Go. Return to your home.” Curiously, I felt like a father talking to a son. “You can do nothing here.”
All color has drained from his face. He looked several years older, closer to how he
looked in 1959. He swirled the remaining liquid around in his glass, set it down, smiled a smile
that collapsed in on itself. Then he arose and walked back to the door. His hand hesitated at the
door’s handle, he glanced at Maximillian’s men and was gone. I whispered to his shade,
“Shalom. ¡Vaya con Diós!” and fell back into a dreamless sleep.
Bonjour, mama,” I called as I came into the kitchen. I’ve got to practice my French if I’m to accompany her to the Université de Guadalajarre this summer. Sure, Mexican French isn’t Parisian French but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper. I can still afford to go to San Diego State in the fall and begin my studies for a secondary teacher’s credential in earnest. Living in Mexico for nine months gave me a good start but just a start.
All of which, of course, is rationalization for a six-week party in Guadalajarre before the
grind begins. Pretty soon we’re chattering away in Frenglish. Only a month to go.
So here I am, sitting in a place called Café de la Paix, scuffing my tennies on the cobblestone patio and looking over the terra cotta roofs at the Sea of Cortez harbor of Topolobampo. Brilliant blue jellyfish swarm the waters of the cove below this Mediterranean-looking, terraced fishing village. And I’m minding my own business, really. Munching some pain douce and sipping Mexican chocolate, reading Jules Verne in the original French. It’s good practice though I’ve already read it several times in English.
It was tough talking my mom into letting me travel with some buddies I met in Guadalajarre, even if it was to the Copper Canyon. Talk about spectacular! Several Grand Canyons would fit in it with room left over. One of my friends was an adult already, it was a popular tour, completely safe. And besides, I only needed to remind her that she bicycled through Europe in ’39, just before LeNoir, may his soul rot in hell, began his march on Germany. This looked to be boring in comparison.
Then, of course, when we got to Los Mochis the train was to be delayed for a couple of days so, hey, there’s this great little village just a couple of hours away by bus. My buddies are sleeping off a hangover and I’m reading Verne for breakfast and an odd-looking man is walking over to a table and notices me. He stumbles, catches his balance and stands, staring. I can barely hear his whisper from across the way.
“Who are you?”
The scenery is hard to ignore as the train crawls along the rim of a chasm that truly
dwarfs our own puny Canyon. But I can’t exorcize him from my mind. His words constantly
haunt me, speaking of a universe that never happened, one that almost did. He looked at me is if I
knew him, as if I were in fact relentlessly dogging his footsteps. Across the aisle the forest rolls
“Hey, I really don’t know you. Am I supposed to?”
“Please. I’m sorry, ... I mean....”
He hesitated. I had no idea what to say so for lack a better plan I just waited. He tried again.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen.” He spoke half to me, half to something over my shoulder. “I got back and it was all wrong. LeNoir won, for godssake.” Had I been less bemused and more on my toes I would have remarked, ‘Certainly not for God’s sake.’ Of course he won. Europe’s got twenty years of fascist rule to show for it. “But he wasn’t supposed to,” he continued. “We defeated him.”
He wasn’t really talking to me, was he? Just sort of bouncing the sounds off of me, maybe to hear them more clearly himself.
At this point my poorer judgment got the better of me.
“What you mean we, Kimo Sabe. If I remember my history correctly we were too busy fighting off the Confeds to be of much help. Not that we could have done much good anyway. It’s tough to fight the Confeds and France and Japan and South Africa all at the same time. Diamonds buy a hell of a lot of planes and tanks and guns.”
“But I didn’t do anything. I went back, just like you told me to. And it was all different. More than two million Jews were killed.”
“Yeah, six million more, to be approximate.”
This was getting a bit weird. I never told him anything, never even met him before.
Suddenly, it was like a film just lifted from his eyes. He spoke clearly, firmly.
“Daniel, you like science fiction, don’t you.”
I don’t remember telling him my name but I was already a little confused anyway.
“Just give me a moment to compose this. I’m going to tell you a story. You may not remember me but the last time we spoke you said we would meet again, but in 1959....”
We spoke for hours as he wove the most fantastical tale and when it was done he gave me seven pages from his journal, ones he claimed to have given me in a once before that never happened. They’re in Hebrew, all right, but I know what they say.
He had been on his way to La Paz. He started looking for answers in Puebla but it held no
clues as to why the universe had changed so he continued on and the most natural land route took
him through Topolobampo. As it turned out, that was to be his destination. I asked him if all this
traveling around might not keep on changing things. He replied that he felt a stability now that he
hadn’t before, that he felt that things would be different before he had known. He had theories
but they meant nothing now. He’s no longer a scientist but a pilgrim, a part of the landscape, an
insignificant piece of flotsam on the jetstream of time.
It has been nearly thirty years as I sit here in this café in Topolobampo and I remember wondering what sort of man would emerge from the crucible. Now we know.
For I have been following him and am, in fact, researching a book. It will be called “The Fifth of May” for what he claims to be his birthday; his birthplace, Puebla, the beginning point of his pilgrimage. But it is this place that seems to be a touchstone to him, to which he returns from time to time and where I expect to meet him today, le Cinq de Mai. My book is nearly written, actually, but one question is yet to be answered, which I will ask him this afternoon. It has to do with birthplace. Perhaps the two newlyweds’ journey leads them to France (Paris?) instead of through Ellis Island. We know that two persons cannot occupy the same physical space (except perhaps in quantum theory). But what about the same time? I mean one person…I mean…Damn! Thinking along these (time)lines makes my teeth hurt.
The bare bones of his story are well-documented. He readily answers most question put to him, save about his past, which, of course, no one would believe anyway. But I alone know of the years before his “birth”, as he puts it. A man tormented, he wrestled with the demons he created. He would not escape through insanity or suicide. They could not be denied and would not be suppressed. And so they must needs be dealt with. He sought the help of philosophers and theologians and shamans from along the ages and learned of the shadow part of him, that place where darkness dwells and to whence the demons must be consigned, always a part of him.
The despair he visualized as a wall before him that he must walk through. He entered it, merged with its molecules, savored its acrid sweetness, became it yet holding fast to the image of a beyond…
…and when he emerged into the light he sought, then found that small, still center within himself and made it his home.
Having acquired some small number of possessions over time he now proceeded to divest himself of them all until what remained were the clothes that he wore: a simple tunic with pockets around its hem for a toothbrush, a straight razor for his head and face and whatever small items might temporarily come into his possession; cotton trousers and undergarments, canvas shoes, and bearing this vow: that he would bring no avoidable harm to any person or creature, directly or indirectly; that he would not speak unless spoken to; that he would ask for nothing but accept that which was offered, excluding any form of flesh or eggs or dairy products (he would, however, accept milk that was fresh and from cows milked by hand, and eggs if he felt the creatures were lovingly cared for); and that he would only walk and never allow himself to be driven or carried.
Understand, he had no agenda. He never set out to do anything, just to be, in as harmless
a way as possible. He espoused no creed or philosophy, not even his own. But if he did, he would
most likely employ the quote ascribed to Hippocrates: “First, do no harm.”
Interestingly, it was a child who first spoke to him.
“I’m David. Who are you?”
“I am a wanderer. I have no name.”
From the day he set out from Puebla on the fifth of May of 1966 he rarely wanted for food or a place to stay. Otherwise he fasted, slept where he found himself. If he saw anyone who needed a hand he lent it without being asked and then smiled quietly and continued on his way.
From time to time he would speak, for people were curious about who he was, where he had come from and what he had done. Anecdotal stories proliferated and eventually preceded him. And always what he said was simple: “Love yourself and those around you and bring no avoidable harm to any living creature. But do not beat yourself if you do not succeed; you will find grace in the effort.” And they called him Wanderer.
He never achieved mass popularity but his friends became legion. From all religions persuasions or lack thereof they followed his philosophy or at least tried and didn’t beat themselves when they failed. And they were pacifists and vegetarians for the most part but didn’t beat themselves if they weren’t. For no one is perfect but does the best one can. And they all learned French and Spanish and English and even Esperanto (or at least tried) since Wanderer was fluent in all four but preferred Esperanto because it was the least nationalistic and only complained (or what for him constituted complaining but was merely remarking) that it was too Western-centric. And their numbers grew.
Then the first Pilgrim’s Ashram appeared, an intentional community based on his philosophy – one which, mind you, he never technically or formally espoused. Others simply inferred. Formed in New York City by, in large part, devotees of Dorothy Day (certainly informed with the spirit of the Catholic Worker), some called it Harlem Ashram II, in homage to the original.
It had taken years to come into being but as it grew and others became aware of it slowly became a movement that spread across the continent, then across the world. It was within this community that the final step began.
It doesn’t matter in which Ashram it originated, only that it did and once begun the realization of an idea, a meme was inexorable. It was not an original thought but now the means and facility to achieve it existed.
The notion of a peace army was based on the idea the war is fundamentally stupid - and with as its inspiration, the Khudai Khidmatgar or Servants of God of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who defeated the vaunted and formidable British Army through nonviolence; Maude Royden’s seminal formation, in the 1930s, of a “Peace Army” to act as a human shield between the Japanese and Chinese forces during the war between Japan and China; and the Gandhi-inspired Shanti Sena, formed in 1958 to utilize nonviolent conflict resolution on a grass-roots level and which itself inspired international groups such as the World Peace Brigade, the Cyprus Resettlement Project, Peace Brigades International and the Global Nonviolent Peace Force.
No soldier in her or his right mind wants to go into battle. A person or a group of people talk other people into fighting for land or power or wealth that they really don’t need anyway and a lot of people get killed and a lot gets destroyed in the process. And all this is made possible by the fear, ignorance and manipulation of a large number of citizens who should know better than to want to kill or be killed for another’s profit or amusement.
So you have this war going on. What would happen if a pacifist army went in as witnesses for peace, placed themselves in the line of fire. They’d get killed, naturally. Same as the poor person who goes charging with rifle and bayonet but with a little different perspective and attitude and conviction.
Every warrior is prepared to die. Every warrior. But what does your death leave behind? A transitory victory, more war, rancor and thirst for vengeance? Every soldier says they’re willing to die for their country. What about dying for humanity? Can it be less noble?
So today we have 1,034 Pilgrim’s Ashrams one form or another with a base group of
pacifists 23 million-strong throughout the world, all linked by the Internet, of course. Pick a
training base, any training base. And train. And discipline.
As I write this account, there is a particularly virulent war going on in Eastern Europe. You have heard so much of it that I needn’t even name it, except to say that the enmity there goes back two thousand years to the time of Sparticus and the slaves that escaped and to where and of the man of a certain ethnicity who betrayed them. This will be their first trial. Many will certainly die; the idea of fighting hatred with understanding and compassion may not. It may go down in history as the greatest folly of engagement of all time. But then it goes to the heart of how one wishes to be remembered and what one hopes to leave behind. Four thousand and eight hundred pacifist troops hope to live and are terrified of dying but believe that Wanderer is right in more than just principle.
And now, having out-maneuvered the bureaucrats they are massed on the Balkan border,
poised for action and awaiting the command. And here I sit waiting for Wanderer in this café in
this far-away land.
When he sits down at my table I am barely aware of his arrival. He smiles at me.
“Kiel estas al vi, mia frato?” [How are you, my brother?] he greets me, in Esperanto.
“Bona, sajne,” [Fine, I guess] I reply in kind. “Mi tenigas provantan. Kion pri vi?” [I keep trying. How about you?]
“Mi estas ci tie,” [I’m here] he says, not just talking geography.
We chat idly, but mostly just sit and gaze at the harbor. For the first time in years I see a faint echo of that overwhelming sadness I once saw in his eyes that August in 1964 and it is elicited by mention of the Peace Force.
“They’re not your responsibility,” I tell him.
“Daniel, you know better than that,” he smiles.
His refreshments appear almost magically, but I’m used to that. I know that there are several dozen people waiting nearby to talk to him or just to look at him but they do not make their presence felt, and I’m almost used to that too.
“Do you still carry my scribblings with you?”
I pull them from my belt pouch, carefully wrapped in plastic.
“But do you believe it yet?”
I just smile non-commitally.
There has been One Question on my mind ever since I met H2 (my own personal nickname, for Hippocrates, Jr.) Twice he has asked me, once in French (so he says) and once in English, right here in Topolobampo. Then the answer was more or less simple. By now I believe we have both figured out The Answer. But I need to hear it from him.
After a few moments more I sense it is finally time and so I ask the One Question. And he touches my hand…
…I touch his hand. I become dizzy as memories flood my mind, his memories and I feel his unsettledness, his life-long questing for meaning, his pilgrimage. How much pain he has felt, while not knowing the source of that pain. I regard this earnest young man before me and my weariness is finally lifted, my fear for those many soldiers of peace relieved (amazing grace!) It is grace I feel in this moment as he asks the question which I now, at last, may answer.
“My friend, mon frère, qui est toi?”
“Mon frere,” I respond, “I am you.”