Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Thin Line

The line is thin, and it runs red.

I'm referring to the line between nonviolence and violence. Between harmony and discord. Between peace and war.

That line is so thin, so permeable, that it scares the "powers-that-be." Today I read a blog post that clearly reveals this. It told of how a poet had been corresponding recently with a good friend who is serving in Afghanistan. Hoping to ease the soldier's obvious distress, the poet emailed her "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by William Butler Yeats. The poet hoped its verses would bring the soldier the same "solace" they had always brought her. Perhaps you're familiar with the poem:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Imagine the shock this poet felt when Yeats's harmless and quite famous poem was cut from her email message by military censors and returned to her with this message: "UNFIT MATERIAL FOR MILITARY PERSONNEL."

There is no way to know for certain why the Yeats poem was censored from that email. We can only surmise, along with its sender, that we mustn't encourage soldiers to "long for peace." With their minds on peace, their willingness to bear arms might waver. To the powers-that-be, even poems are a threat.

The line between peace and war is thin, and it runs red. A government can easily rouse its citizens to make war and send its citizens to fight war. But as that same government knows, those same citizens can easily decide they've had enough of the battlefield. They can read a little poem, and because they've read that poem, they might cry out, "No more!" and walk away in spirit, even if their bodies stay put. They might find ways to resist, even while appearing not to. The line between war and peace is thin. It can easily stop running red, and run green.

Juan Diaz
This is the message of which artist Juan Diaz reminds us. Last March in Naples, Florida, he created a huge painting, 23' wide by 8' tall, while in live performance before an audience. He titled it "The Thin Line Between PEACE\war." To paint the picture, he used what he calls "a light wall," on which he "lives the creative process without interruption." His artwork is an invitation to his audience to do the same.

It took Diaz 21 minutes to paint "The Thin Line," but the process has been condensed into eight minutes in this video. The footage includes the music used during the live performance. Diaz says that "the piece tells a story with unpredictable flowing color," color that "transforms as the sounds and lights alter."

I must confess that when I first watched and listened to Diaz's performance--peace gradually becoming war (by my interpretation), then the violence of war deepening--I was tempted to stop the video. I'm glad that I didn't. For in the end Diaz reminds us in a powerful way that "The Thin Line Between PEACE\war" is permeable in both directions. If green can turn red, red can turn green.

It all depends on us.

The thin line between PEACE\war from Juan Diaz on Vimeo.

(Note: If for some reason you can't see the viewer above, click on the link to watch the video.)

Deep peace,
Phyllis Cole-Dai

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