The Planting of a Peace Pole

When I was asked to speak about Peace and Peace Poles at a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship meeting in September, I was honored and delighted to accept. It was a nostalgic trip for me. I have spent many inspiring hours hiking in the abundant inspiration and beauty of the Central Sierras. I had not been to Sonora in 20 years.

Notes from my talk and ongoing thoughts:

My first Peace Pole was planted 22 years ago when I lived in Groveland, where I considered Yosemite National Park my back yard. While living there a friend asked if I would place a Peace Pole at my home in honor of her son. She and the Peace Pole arrived and we planned to place it in my garden the next morning, the one year anniversary of her son’s death. Early that next morning her screams woke me up. She was listening to the news – It was September 11, 2001 and the World Trade Center attacks were in progress. We planted the Peace Pole that morning as a personal memorial and as a collective prayer for peace.

My friend has departed but the pole with all of its significance has moved with me several times. It is with me now at my little cottage in the village of Cambria. I was happy to discover that a Peace Pole stands at the Veterans Center on Main Street. There are also Peace Poles at each of the local schools.

The Peace Pole is internationally recognized as a symbol of the hopes and dreams of the entire human family. The Peace Pole project came into being through a man in Japan named Masahisa Goi. Overcome by the destruction of world war II and the atomic bombs that fell on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he dedicated his life to spreading the message, May Peace Prevail on Earth. Those words - May Peace Prevail on Earth - came to him in a moment of deep prayer in 1955 and were the inspiration for peace poles that have since been installed in cities around the world. Traditionally, the message appears in 4 different languages, one on each side of the pole. The poles stand in vigil as a silent prayer: May Peace Prevail on Earth.

The desire for peace (inner and outer) has been at the heart of  the human journey throughout history and that struggle to attain peace continues. I grew up with stories of my parent’s experiences during World War II. I read The Diary of Ann Frank as a young girl and could not understand how such madness could be carried out on human beings by other human beings. It seemed unimaginable. It haunted me.

When I was older I learned of the role the United States played in the death of more than 150,000 people when atomic bombs were dropped indiscriminately on civilian men, women and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How was this allowed to happen? While some mercifully died instantly others suffered unimaginable agony. An exact accounting is impossible. In Nagasaki, at the end of a year, 36% of the total population were dead. The burden is heavy and should not be forgotten. The Peace Pole is a reminder of the responsibility we have to live the way of peace.

The lessons have yet to be learned and taken to heart. My generation experienced Vietnam and all that has transpired since. In 1975 I was married to a Vietnam veteran and raising a young daughter. Stories of the atrocities that had taken place in Vietnam came home with the physically and psychologically wounded young veterans and took a toll on my generation. I could not reconcile the atrocities of war with my own sense that we must surely be intended for something better.

There is hope that as a nation and as a people we will find the maturity to move toward peace, to be accountable for our part in the destruction that continues to be unleashed on the world. We all hold responsibility for the roles we play, whether personally or publicly. What a transformation could be made if a powerful nation like the United States had the courage to lead the world in demonstrating the way of peace. Currently, strong forces are pushing toward an escalation of violence and chaos. We can see the escalation of that pattern in our country and in the world.

The philosophy of the war way, that violence can be overcome by more violence, continues to prevail. We can see it between Russia and the Ukraine and other areas of violent confrontation. Retaliating against agressors with violence and destruction simply escalates the violence and destruction. As Gandhi put it, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”

War has never ended war, nor will it, unless no one is left. Still, we rush blindly ahead with the push for more massively destructive weapons. Will we unleash another unthinkable crime against humanity and the earth? The debt of all ungodly atrocities cannot be paid. They can only be transformed through peaceful action.

The way of peace recognizes that the means determines the end. It is the philosophy that only good can overcome evil, that it takes love to overcome hate. Anything contrary to these higher laws are transient. Chaos results when the spiritual center of our being is disregarded. If enough of us choose to grow and live according to the eyes of the divine nature within, our world would enter a period of peace and compassion beyond our imagination.

Together we can choose peace in ours hearts and in our words and in our actions. The soul of our nation longs for peace. The soul of our world cries for peace. Peace with the environment, which is the foundation of life. Peace between nations and groups. Peace between people, and that very important inner peace. We can all be peacemakers. Every one of us has an amazing potential to make a difference. Let there be peace on earth – and let it begin with me – and you.

For this let us Hope and Work and Pray
Cambria, CA

Cheryl Canfield, CCHT, 2023