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The Perfect Peace Harvest

From the book Aisha's Moonlit Walk: Stories and Celebrations for the Pagan Year, by Anika Stafford ( Boston : Skinner House, 2005).

Tell the children you will signal them with a drumbeat (or another signal) when it is time to join in the refrain.

Every year on Lammas, we clamor our way to City Hall with posters and placards to picket for peace.Every year since I was a baby we have a big rally.Speakers and singers, dancers and screamers, we all gather to say that we want "peace now, peace now."Lammas is a time to raise your voice, even when it's hard. It's a time to say no to war and to anything else that hurts anyone, anywhere in the world.

Most of the people at the rally aren't pagans, but they all yell, "Peace now, peace now," which is as much of a Lammas celebration as anything I can think of.

We carry drums to bang and cymbals to clang.Since I've been coming here all my life, it's not too hard to get ready to clang and bang.I come ready to make some noise.

On Lammas you've gotta stomp your dancing feet,

On Lammas you've gotta raise your voice and speak,

Lammas is the harvest, we've gotta harvest peace.

This year there are at least a hundred people, maybe more.There are people with canes, people with crowns, people draped in crazy costumes, yelling, "Peace now, peace now!"

There are people with puppets taller than the treetops and people holding signs that say "No War."Standing in back are people watching in silence until we all yell, "Peace now, peace now!"Then everyone yells together.

My family and I meet people under a banner that says "Pagans for Peace."There are pagans we know who greet us with big happy hugs and pagans we don't know but we all yell, "Peace now, peace now!" for Lammas.

On Lammas you've gotta stomp your dancing feet,

On Lammas you've gotta raise your voice and speak,

Lammas is the harvest, we've gotta harvest peace.

There are babies snug in their snuggly carriers and toddlers toddling on the grass.They yell, "eace, now, eace, now," which is definitely close enough to "peace now" for any of us."That's how you used to say it when you were little," my dad tells me.My brother Eli yells and sings, and I swing him up onto my shoulders.

There is a stage at the front of the rally with microphones and banners.Huge flags with doves and peace signs wave in the August wind.There are old women in crazy hats who step up and sing for peace. But there are no kids up there.There are teenagers in silly skirts and socks who step up and cheer and chant for peace. But there are no kids. Everyone speaks out, but there are no kids at the microphones.

"This is ridiculous," I burst out to my mom."I have been coming here my whole entire life and I've never seen a single kid on that stage!"

"Aisha," my mom says, "what a great idea! Run up and tell them you want to speak.Hurry!"

I freeze.I hadn't meant me.Just some kid.My heart thuds in my chest.I just meant someone, anyone else.I look at the crowd: a hundred people, maybe more.I am ten years old.I do not want to speak in front of all of them.

But I have been coming here for ten years, and for ten years I've chanted the same words:

On Lammas you've gotta stomp your dancing feet,

On Lammas you've gotta raise your voice and speak,

Lammas is the harvest, we've gotta harvest peace.

My stomach is fluttery.My legs are jittery.This feels nothing like peace, but I've got to do it.I know I do.So I slowly lift my brother off of my shoulders and put him on the ground.

"I'm going to go up," I tell my mom, and she grins her biggest grin. "I'm going to go up!" I exclaim loudly to everyone around us under the "Pagans for Peace" banner.Our friend Alex comes over to me."Hooray!" he yells.He picks me up in a big bear hug and swings me around."Good for you!" our friends cheer. Now I have to do it.

I run all the way up to the stage before I can lose my nerve and run back.There are organizers standing next to it."I am here to speak," I tell the grown-ups on the stage.

One man looks at me."There isn't enough time," he says.

I want to run back but I don't.Instead, I take a deep breath and try again. "There are never any kids speaking," I tell him.Then I turn to the other organizers."What if I only say just four quick things?"The organizers look at each other and shrug."Okay," they say."Just four quick things."

I stand at the microphone with my fluttery stomach and jittery legs. I have been coming here since I was a baby, but raising my voice in front of the whole crowd is one of the hardest things I've ever done.Even though I don't feel the littlest bit of peace, I take a deep breath and begin.

"War doesn't help anything," I say."It doesn't give us clean water."

Everyone yells back, "No!"

"It doesn't give us land to grow our food!" I say.

And again, the crowd yells, "No!"

"It doesn't let kids grow up healthy!"I call out.

"No! No!No!" everyone yells.

"We all need the Earth and the water, and we all need each other." I raise my voice loudly into the microphone."So," I finish,"what do we want?"

And the crowd goes wild, yelling, "Peace now, peace now, peace now!"

I look down and see that our "Pagans for Peace" group is starting a big, snaking, twisting, spiral dance through the crowd.I run down and grab hands with them as more and more people join us, taking each other's hands and singing.

We sing and smile, dancing our way through the crowd and around the buildings.Our song fills me with bouncy gleefulness.With my legs strong and sturdy again, I imagine our song is like water splashing us.

On Lammas you've gotta stomp your dancing feet,

On Lammas you've gotta raise your voice and speak,

Lammas is the harvest, we've gotta harvest peace.

I have come here every Lammas since I was a baby, but speaking in front of the whole entire crowd is the most perfect peace harvest I've ever made.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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