Thursday, May 13, 2010

Loving our Mother via the Houston Art Car Parade

There's a social mixer exercise where people in a group tell each other, in turn, something they think others are unlikely to know about them. For me, the idea is not just to learn more about each other, but to be reminded that we are all deeper and broader than we will ever know. One aspect of empathy is the happy surprise.

Sometimes, I do a version of this exercise in my head when I am with some people I know and others I don't -- thinking, that is, about the remarkable qualities and circumstances I know about folks, and wondering whether, if others knew those things, would it change the ways they think?

I was doing this last Saturday in Houston as I rode along with our CodePink Austin Peacemobile entry in the fabulous Houston Art Car Parade. Our theme was "Love Your Mother," -- since the parade is held the day before Mother's Day -- with "Mother" meaning our common planet as well as all moms everywhere. We also meant: peace is green, and war is not.

Four of our group rode in the Peacemobile, and six of us rode our bicycles alongside the car as part of our entry. This year, because we had held a fundraiser in Houston the night before for the GI Coffee House, Under The Hood, our group included the UTH director, her two daughters, and two young US Army veterans from Killeen.

The parade, the largest of its kind in the world, is lined with thousands of spectators. I thought about my friends in the Peacemobile. Would the crowd guess that in the passenger seat was a soldier who is going through the process of filing as a Conscientious Objector? Would they know that in the back seat was a woman who worked for years at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and also felt so strongly about the wrongness of US policies in Central America that she spent 6 months in prison for an act of civil disobedience on a US Army base? Would they guess that the child sitting next to her was the daughter of a Ft. Hood soldier who did three tours of duty in Iraq, even after a serious head injury during his second?

I think the people exchanging peace signs with us would have been surprised to learn that one of us on the bikes was just recently released from the military brig in Ft. Lewis, WA after serving a term for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. They might have seen his t-shirt with peace sign and just assumed he was a "peace-nik" since day one. Would they guess that he hails from Kentucky, plays and sings 90's country, and is a devoted Christian?

As I thought about my companions, I was full of wonder. What were the chances that each of us would find our way to this moment, sharing this parade?

As we rode along, I also watched the crowd. Making eye contact with as many people as I could, I called out, "Happy Mother's Day!" Lots called out in response, "You, too!" or "Love Your Mother!" as they read the messages on the car and my bike. When I looked into their faces, I could catch only a glimpse of the mysteries they contained.

To me, that's the essence of why war must end. Every person is a universe of experience and potential. How could we destroy such a deep well, a vessel of possibility? How could we kill someone who we might find, one day, tooling along beside us in a parade?

When President Obama campaigned on the "Change" theme, I thought most about how individuals can change, rather than how things change. We evolve over the course of our lives. If lives are cut short, denying us the opportunity to change, then evolutionary progress on a larger scale suffers, too.

The Houston Art Car parade is all about creation and transformation. We're outlandish, unique and beautiful, rolling forward together. Happy Mother's Day, everyone!

from top, moi on my peace bike, from bubbaofthebubbles' flickr site (Bubba is my neighbor, Robert, he of yard art fame)
the Peacemobile, with globe engineer, Heidi
the Peacemobile on parade, from Boptimist's flickr site
my favorite other biker, from Barry D's flickr site


swimmerfran said...

Wonderful piece, Making Peace! I'm proud to roll with you.

Sylvia said...

This is beautiful, Susan. Thanks for sharing.

Editor said...

Thank you, friends!

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan! Great story. Seeing my handiwork on the art car makes me feel like I was there in spirit. I miss you all very much! Carol P.

Kim said...

It brought a tear to my eye. Thank you.