I sat alone in a back pew of the chapel while the students began to enter the building, quietly but bustling. My son’s class was already sitting in the pews behind the altar, the choir pews that faced out toward the rest of the congregation. They would be putting on the service today, and the theme was Martin Luther King Jr., because it was Friday, and the following Monday was the Martin Luther King Day holiday. It would be six years now since a bill pronouncing the holiday became law. Thinking about it made me smile. Still, not all of the states recognized it as such, which irritated me. I had been minimally involved in the campaign for the federal holiday, writing a letter to my congressmen and signing a petition at the mall.
Sadly, the irony of this particular celebration on this particular day could not be ignored. The day before, code-named Operation Desert Storm, the Gulf War had begun with an aerial bombardment by a UN authorized coalition force from 34 nations, led by the United States, against Iraq.
I thought back on my lifetime and that of my children. Eighteen years earlier, on January 27, 1973, all warring parties in the Vietnam War had signed a ceasefire as a prelude to the Paris Peace Accord. From the time my children had been born in the early 1980s, they had never lived with their country at war. Until today, the day my son and his class would share stories and songs of a peaceful man who espoused non-violent methods for conflict resolution.
Chaplain Heidel opened the service acknowledging the events of the night before, and offered a prayer for the troops and their families and for a swift end to the conflict. And I added a silent prayer of my own, that my children would not be misled by the patriotism that emerges from war, that they would hold fast to the ideals of peace and that they would strive for a world free of guns, and missiles, and bloodshed. My eyes watered as I fought back tears.