"Everyone has their Vietnam. Everyone has their war. May we embark together on a pilgrimage of ending these wars and truly living peace."
-Claude Anshin Thomas, "At Hell's Gate"
the 49th day
38"x38" oil on linen 2004
collection of bill badalato
Listening to Bono and Pavarotti sing "Miss Sarajevo" as I stretch new canvases for the upcoming year. The fresh smell of new linen mixes in the room with the fragrance of a just pulled espresso. The light this morning is crisp and warm. My world seems to be at peace until a line from the song slips into my mind :"Is there a time for keeping your head down, for getting on with your day?" I can picture Sarajevo in black snow. One by one, men, women and children race across a broad street. I can hear the crack of a sniper's rifle in my mind...
That imagined gunshot haunts me. A taunting reply to my question "How does one paint peace?" I pick up Claude Anshin Thomas' new book from a stack on the studio floor - "At Hell's Gate: A Soldier's Journey From War to Peace." I flip through the pages looking for the passage on Bosnia and instead find what I really need: "To live in the present moment and find peace in our lives, we need to be mindful in all that we do, in every action that we take... We are easily distracted by our thoughts, images of the past and the future, our dreams, our hopes, our regrets."
Claude fought in Vietnam, his youth lost as a gunner in assault helicopters, piles of spent shells gathered at his feet and piles of lives lost in the jungle below. Claude is now a Zen monk, practicing pilgrimages of peace and non-violence to war scarred spots across the globe. His message is simple yet heroic.
Claude was embraced by the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, during a meditation retreat for Vietnam veterans. It is my sincere hope for the years ahead that we will see American, Iraqi War, veterans embraced by Iraqi religious leaders in meditation retreats so the cycle of war ends for these new veterans as it has for Claude Anshin Thomas.
I wish you peace in the new year.