By Jim Forest
[clipped from Writing Straight With Crooked Lines]
In 1967, with the war in Vietnam getting worse by the day and civilian casualties mounting steadily, I had a soul-changing dream that helped me overcome the bitter tide that was rising within me. At the time, anti-war demonstrations were turning in a hate-driven, self-righteous direction, with President Lyndon Johnson the focal-point of growing rage. Protesters in front of the White House were often chanting such mantras as “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Crude caricatures of Johnson were being carried in parades. Writing about it in a letter to Merton, I added:
“’Nor do I want to sound self-righteous about the problem, for it afflicts me too. For a while I had a photo of the president at the center of the dartboard that hung on the kitchen wall and found it amusing to throw darts at the image. No more. The other night I had a dream about getting on a public bus and discovering LBJ was one of the passengers and that there was an empty seat next to him. I sat down and introduced myself and we got into a conversation about the war. We didn’t agree — he said the same kinds of things that I had heard him say at press conferences — but it was a real if troubled human exchange. Then, at his suggestion, we got off the bus and went for a walk in the countryside, at this point saying nothing. Gazing downward, I watched our shoes as we kicked up the golden fall leaves that were thick on the ground. We were both silent, just the sound of our shoes plowing the leaves. At that point I woke up and the dream ended. I got out of bed, my mind momentarily blank, and stepped into the kitchen, where I saw the dartboard. The photo of Johnson looked like it had been sprayed with bullets. I just made it back to the bed, collapsed and wept. I felt like a murderer. So you see I’m not talking about problems others have but my own problem, my own sin.”
That dream marked a turn. Whatever I might do about peacemaking in the years to come, it had better not be fueled by hatred and dartboard fantasies of homicide.
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