Easter Sunday. The day is bright with the illumination of the risen Lord after two days of gloom; the suffering of Good Friday and the absence of Holy Saturday. Now it is windy on the Central Coast of California as it is the season of wind. A strong fresh breeze from over the ocean; one can smell marine life in the air.
Communion reinforces the bond. The church goers clog the highway. The restaurants are busy. I go home to the cats who don’t see one day different from another. They eat. They sleep. Meow to go out. Meow to come in. Judy Collins sings “Give Yourself to Love” on the radio.
Yesterday I wrote to Liz McAllister, who sits a jail cell in Georgia because she wants to protect our planet from nuclear hell. A whole year gone by. I try to write small but legible on the tiny postcard that is all I am allowed to send. So much to say. So little space.
So little time.
One wonders how much time is left?
Reading Frida Berrigan’s story about how nuclear weapons ruined her life, I find myself almost unable to breathe. Who would survive well a childhood with parents in and out of prison all the time? Not I, I think. Better to deal with loss of a parent from death as I did. More understandable. At least one can say there was no unmet expectations. One cannot hold a parent accountable because they died. But the loss is the same. A parent not at home. A parent missing from the school plays, the music recitals, the sports events, the graduations, the budding of romances, the weddings, the births. Because they chose jail instead.
They chose life.
Do you remember the Doomsday Clock? I had forgotten about it. Resurrected in this story, the tale includes the minutes to nuclear midnight. Twelve minutes, nine minutes, seven minutes, two. And then what? BOOM! It’s all over.
I remember laughing at the nuns who corralled us children at Holy Name Catholic School and herded us down the dark stairs to the basement of the building during the drills. If the red button was pushed in Washington the alarm would sound and we were to get up from our desks and go quickly to the basement. To avoid the radiation, Sister explained. From the bomb. My 11 year old mind rejected this almost at once. I had seen the photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The basement would never suffice. I refused to go.
Sister Frances sent a note home to my mother. Ruth Ann would not follow instructions. My mother, of course, would have none of this. “You do what Sister tells you to do!” Still, I refused to go.
After a while some of the other kids didn’t want to go too. The basement was not a cheery place. They would hesitate and look back at me as they marched out of the classroom door. My friend Dolores Natoli finally asked me why I wouldn’t go. “Did you see the pictures?” I asked her. “The ones of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?” She shook her head no.
So I brought them to school. The pictures I had clipped out of a paper or a magazine. Especially one of a little naked girl, skin all blistered, running down a destroyed street. The pictures were passed around secretly from desk to desk. They didn’t need explanation. At the next drill, no one got up from their desk. No one would go. The pictures were produced and handed over to Sister Frances. She didn’t say anything at first. Then she asked us to say the Lord’s Prayer.
We never did another drill.
Two minutes to nuclear midnight. Two minutes on the Doomsday Clock.
I don’t know the exact numbers of all the nuclear weapons in the world. I don’t know how many nuclear power plants there are and how much nuclear supply there is for them. I don’t know how much nuclear waste sits out everywhere. I think it is a lot. A number I don’t want to think about. But I do know why Frida Berrigan’s parents chose the life they did. I do know why Liz sits in jail today.
As I scribbled my words on the postcard to her. I thought I at least had one word of hope. They are going to close the nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon about 15 miles as the crow flies from my house. They have finally given in to the years of protests from Mothers of Peace. Oh, they say the decision is an economic one. I don’t care why they’ve decided. One less nuclear holocaust avoided.
Still, I had to tell Liz. People are worried for the loss of the jobs. And what about the waste?
The wind blows through the trees and whips up white caps on the surf. It is the windy season. How will the wind blow on Doomsday?
Campaign Nonviolence, a project of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, is working for a new culture of nonviolence by connecting the issues to end war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction. We organize The Nonviolent Cities Project and the annual Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions.
Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.
Dear Ruth Ann,
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR NOT GOING TO THE DRILL.
Your writing had me filled with rage and also weeping and weeping and weeping.
I did a Plowshares witness way back in 1986 and then a year in prison.
Before that I did many many many acts of non-violent civil disobedience, mostly against first strike nuclear weapons, but not entirely.
After Fukushima, I became an anti- nuclear writer/activist/organizer – this time against nuclear power.
Thank you so much for writing and publishing this.