Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thinking about Gandhi

When I was a student at the University of Virginia, back in the early 1970’s, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I became involved with a protest against the war in Viet Nam.  We planned to drive up to the Pentagon, meet up with protesters from other colleges and universities, and picket the main entrance.  It was going to be a pretty big deal.  When word of the protest spread to the authorities, they let it be known that our picketing was illegal, would not be tolerated, and if we tried it, we would be arrested.  I remember being amazed at the time at how many people dropped out of the protest when they realized that their arrest was almost certain.  Maybe they didn’t want to hurt their records, or damage their future careers.  Maybe they were afraid it would hurt their chances at getting into the right grad school.  Or maybe, this close in history to the tragedies at Kent State University and the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, they were simply afraid.


We went from being a bus full of people to a van full, but we went.  We WERE arrested, herded into RFK stadium, processed and jailed with as many as 20 of us jammed into a cell meant for four.  We were released a day or so later.  I was never tried, and some years later an amnesty from President Ford wiped even our arrest records clean.  It was, overall, a grand experience, and I’m glad and proud that I went.  I continued to protest the war until it ended.

There’s a story about Gandhi, perhaps apocryphal, about a mother who asked Gandhi to tell her young son to quit eating sugar.  She said, “I know it does him harm, and I know he will obey you.”  Gandhi asked her to come back in a week.  She was puzzled by the delay, and frankly, a little put out by it, but she figured that Gandhi was a busy man, so she agreed.  In a week,  she came back; Gandhi sat down with the boy, joked and played with him for a while and then said to him, “Please don’t eat sugar.  It’s not good for you.”  The boy agreed to stop.  The mother came over, thanked Gandhi, but said, “I don’t understand why it took you a whole week to tell him that.  Why couldn’t you just do that a week ago?”  Gandhi smiled at her, showing her the gaps in his own teeth, and said, “Last week, I, too, was eating sugar.”

To me, sacrifice means talking the talk and walking the walk.  It means not giving up just what's comfortable to give up.  I believe you have to sacrifice for your beliefs when it becomes uncomfortable, or inconvenient, or hard.  The sacrifices you make could be sacrifices of time, or money.  It could mean going on a march for a cause you believe in even though it’s raining, or it’s cold, or you’re hurting.  Even the Bible references this kind of sacrifice in worship:  look at the story of the widow’s mites.  The widow is praised because her donation of two tiny coins is worth more than a rich man’s sack of gold -- it's all the money she has.  Or look at any of Jesus’s rebukes of the all-talk-and-no-action Pharisees.  (Oh, those Pharisees.  When will they ever learn?!)

Could I be doing more, giving more, living my beliefs more?  Of course I could.  But awareness is the first step.  I don’t ever want to be a “do as I say not as I do” person.  I had to remind myself of this last Monday when my daughter and I were freezing outside for a couple of hours on the Dauphin County Courthouse steps, protesting for equal marriage rights for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons.  Quite frankly, there were times when I wanted to go sit in the car with the heater on.  I think my daughter did, too.  But we stuck it out.

I am so proud of her.

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