Could My Experience with Dan Berrigan Shed Light?
by Carol Crossed
This November I was pleasantly reconnected with a friend from 1985. Nancy and I had been young mothers together in the neighborhood. Our children ate P B and J sandwiches on the back picnic table and played street hockey until it got dark. That summer we escaped to The Women’s Peace Encampment in Romulus, New York. It was a space of tents adjacent to the Seneca Army Depot where women came from all over the world to oppose the nuclear warheads buried there. That year my husband had bought an old school to convert into housing; Nancy and I had a sale of chalkboards and cafeteria dishes, and raised money to host speakers and provide food for the over 100 women gathered there at any one time.
“Do you want to go hear a reading of Molly’s Hammer?” Nancy called me out of the blue just a few weeks ago in early November. The performance at our local community theater was about Molly Rush, the Plowshares activist. Molly’s character was flanked on either side by a man reading the role of her husband Bill, and on the other by a reader for Dan Berrigan, the Jesuit priest and prophet.
Daniel touched Molly’s soul to its core, shook her, scared her into an even greater depth of commitment to abolish nuclear arms. She planned to take the 5-hour journey in the middle of the night to literally hammer on weapons – figuratively, swords into ploughshares.
Much of the stage reading was a conversation with her husband about the probable cost of the trespass and weapons destruction. Who would take care of their 12 and 14 year old? How could she abandon him and the kids? The time was not right. What time was “right,” she asked? Wasn’t she doing this precisely because the boys were young and had so much of their life ahead of them?
I admired Molly so. Their stage conversation was reminiscent of my own with my husband over simpler commitments. Overnights in the klinker, as my kids would call it. My weekends in a Washington DC jail were child’s play next to Molly’s conversion to redirect her life for the cause of peace.
After the performance was an audience engagement time with three community leaders: a man who worked with inner-city homeless with their healthcare needs, a woman who was head of NOW (National Organization for Women) in Rochester, and an Rochester Institute of Technology professor who was an expert on non-violence. Many of my friends in the peace community were there and were acutely aware of the current contentious situation between the leaders of North Korea and our country. It was a somber conversation. What would Daniel do if he were alive?
A member of the panel referred to me. Could my experience with Berrigan when he was arrested in Rochester shed any light on current tensions?
When Berrigan was here in 1989 and 1991, it was in the midst of massive national civil disobedience in front of abortion clinics and nuclear weapons sites. He couldn’t make sense of the “my issue is more important than your issue” mentality. Is that like saying the people you want to protect are more important than the people I want to protect? Nonsense, Daniel would say with a smile.
In his newly released biography on Berrigan, Jim Forest speaks to Dan’s challenge to his peace friends. Nuclear weapons and abortion suction machines were pretty much the same thing.
A recent article titled “Life Affirming?” in the Notre Dame Magazine (Autumn, 2017) by Professor Richard Garnett says there is a need to affirm life on the “right” and on the “left.” He quotes theologian John Cavadini as saying a “culture that allows the powerful to kill the weak just because they are weak is a culture without significant moral substance and all attempts to use the language of morality will be subverted by this fundamental incoherence.”
I commented to the audience about Berrigan’s abortion clinic and army depot arrests on the same day in Rochester. Some youth in the audience were spellbound. But other seasoned followers quietly reflected on how needed Berrigan was now. More than ever, he is needed now.