I’m the last to arrive. A drizzle falls, enveloping the morning in drab grays as I don the orange jumpsuit. The magnolia tree over head is in full bloom, its soft pink/white peddles heralding a new spring, a new beginning. I place a black hood over my head. Everything is muted; a veil over what is real. Quietly, Carmen says, “It’s time.” Our small group of “detainees” forms a circle. Pedestrians with umbrellas and their collars turned up hurry by as we bow our heads and grasp each other’s hands in silence. I wonder if our tableau reminds those who rush past of prisoners, broken and defeated, or priests huddled in prayer, I wonder if our circle evokes anything at all.
Carmen picks up a sign, red lettering on a white poster board, “Shut Down Guantanamo” and we fall into line behind him. Our hands behind our backs, we move slowly, deliberately through the park.
As I walk, I imagine the shackles binding my legs and hands. I am grateful my hood has not been pissed on by angry soldiers, my wrists are not cut from handcuffs that bound me to the cage, I have not been beaten with a bat, I have not been tasered, or struck with a cattle prod, my genitals have not been wired to a car battery. I have not been dragged around on a leash, made to bark like a dog, I have not been forced to masturbate, or masturbate someone else, as gleeful soldiers laugh and pose, woman soldiers have not smeared me with what they claim is menstrual blood. I have not been humiliated, shamed, beaten or broken.
I am glad that my ears are not covered and I can hear the birds sing.
As I walk silently, I remember in this moment innocent men are suffering at the hands of Americans.
Kinhin is the art of walking meditation practiced by Zen monks over millennia. It is simply a continuation of sitting meditation. When walking you just walk. Coordinating your breath with the movement of your feet, you slowly step, one foot after the other. In deep meditation I move with the group toward the Whitehouse.
A young man approaches us from behind. As he passes, I see his shiny black shoes wet from the rain, his tailored black pants, his pinstriped suit jacket. He slows and says, “I know you are not supposed to respond, but I want to tell you, that I am thankful that you are here.” He hurries on.
We approach the sidewalk in front of the Whitehouse and turn to face the street, each of us holding a piece of a banner. In silence I stand, head bowed, noticing my breath, watching as children stop to stare, asking “Why?” and “What?” and parents grab their hands and say, “Let’s go, come on! We need to see the West Wing.” Some stop and calmly explain the torture of prisoners. One pre-adolescent girl shouts to her mom, “I want to help them!”. Like the magnolia tree, she heralds a new beginning, another possibility.
Many people increase their pace and pass quickly, averting their eyes, as they rush about their midday business. Some walk by stiffly, imagining we don’t exist. Some teenagers laugh as they pose with a thumbs-up in front of us, and I wonder if they connect to the sadistic soldiers who got off on abusing detainees, or if they are conscious of the abuses taking place at all. I watch as anger rises. My body begins to stiffen both from the emotions that arise and standing in the cold drizzle. I return to my breath.
I recognize my feeling of separateness, as a wide swath of empty sidewalk opens up in front of us and crowds congregate fifty feet away laughing and shouting, squeezing together as mom takes a photo for the family album.
As the vigil comes to a close for the day, our signs are put away and we slowly turn. In single file we walk away, leaving the Whitehouse vista clear. Passerby will no longer need to avert their eyes.
The 100 day vigil to close Guantanamo continues Monday thru Friday 11am to 1 pm in front of the Whitehouse.
JOHNNY BARBER has traveled to Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Lebanon to bear witness and document the suffering of people who are affected by war. He has just returned from Jordan & Syria where he worked to document the issues facing Iraqi refugees. He can be contacted through his blog at www.oneBrightpearl-jb.blogspot.com