Washington After Dark

Washington, November 13

…non-believers in search of God.”

—Herzen

The March against Death on November 13 could hardly have meant as much to some of us who are older if the war were not by now so desperate a matter as to drive out of us all the habits by which we used to calculate real power. It has left us nothing to offer but the sacrifice of our sense of irony, no way to act, so little else being believable, except from belief in the iron force of weakness. For us, then, this was a libation by agnostics.

There was a terribly earnest commitment to decorum, not to the way the thing looked but to the way it must be done. You come by now upon an unexpected and unfamiliar distaste in yourself for mockery. An advertisement from your new comrades, the businessmen, begins “Those impudent snobs are about to do it again”; you are embarrassed to read it and to find Doyle, Dane and Bernbach so out of touch with the opposition’s recognition of how precious its dignity is. The struggle that is ahead of us is for the grace not to be clever.

The gear for this voyage was a candle, a strip of cardboard lettered “Stephen Solnick, California,” and a small multilithed rectangle saying “Keep Protest Peaceful” for pinning to the lapel. Normally this last item of issue ought slightly to offend; with the years, you tend to expect good behavior in yourself and to leave off preaching it to others; but now it seemed a proper insignia, a further libation. There are no ropes of power visible; we are all compelled to be Quakers.

But the walk reminded us of how out of the habit of praying we are. There was the loneliness, between the duty to implore and the long-learned inhibition against imploring; around the quiet of this march, there went on the reiteration of how noisy the silent majority is, with the cough of its helicopters, the intrusive insinuation of its traffic. There was the feeling that all who walk are us and all who ride are them. The pleasurable distraction of thinking how unworthy you are allowed Stephen Solnick’s placard to blow forgotten over the shoulder; it was recovered with the understanding that the main job must from now on be to carry it like a chalice. What it meant does not seem quite so simple to say. It is not all that easy to be honorable when speaking the name of a dead soldier who is a stranger; did the death of Stephen Solnick, so senseless to us, seem also senseless to him? We did not know; all that we can say with assurance that we have a right to carry was his dignity.

For the young the Quaker way was easier. They are ready for gestures, while we have to work hard to unlearn tactics, being salesmen trying to reform. Some of us may rise to carrying the …

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Letters

Wrong Impression January 1, 1970