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Shining a light on dreams for peace

“Peace called us here, and we came

With tender hearts longing for love,

We knew at last: Peace is in us, peace is in us.”

Like most beautiful accomplishments, it began with a dream. A very determined Ashland resident, Jean Bakewell, imagined the project.

Enduring the bombing of her English hometown, Jean had experienced at a very early age the horror of war. Many decades later, as she walked along the path beside Ashland’s railroad tracks, staring at the mountains and grieving over the recent loss of loved ones, she envisioned something lovely. The unsightly wire fence could become a tapestry of hope, a parade of colorful banners expressing people’s yearning for peace.

She ran the idea by her partner, Kay. “One of your better ones,” she replied.

They shared the dream over dinner with friends, and now they had a committee — six spirited friends ready to share in an audacious adventure. More friends joined, people who liked the slightly subversive idea and who didn’t mind working at night.

On Mother’s Day 2007, the people of Ashland awoke to a gift. Somehow, with the help of magical elves working in the dark of night, an ugly wire fence by the tracks had been transformed into a gorgeous stream of bright, colorful panels calling out for peace. Initially, there were 67 panels, but before long; there were over 200, some from local schoolchildren, some from peace-dreamers across the globe.

That year, Jean Bakewell and her “gang of six” were given Peace House’s Courage for Peace award, and at the ceremony the Peace Choir sang.

Unfortunately, the banners couldn’t withstand the hatred of a few individuals, who for some reason didn’t like peace messages. They ripped them down one night, leaving many in muddy shreds. Transcending hate, however, the dream could not be crushed. The idealists imagined a more permanent wall made of tiles, photographed copies of the original panels.

The vision became more specific. How about right in front of the library? With vital help from local contractor Darrell Boldt and local metalworker Bruce Smith, and with much persistence and effective fundraising, the metal-framed Peace Wall was completed.

The women who had worked meticulously to assemble the ceramic mosaic, under the direction of Sue Springer of Illahe Art Gallery, carried the finished sections on their shoulders, amazed at what they had helped create. A ceremony held Sept. 21, 2010, celebrated the event.

The panels on the Peace Wall express hope in many ways. Some are wordless and articulate their visions with simple pictures — children hugging each other, flowers, rainbows, smiling faces and peace signs.

Other banners combine images with words, and we’re told in powerful ways of people’s longing for peace. “Listen, the wind calls out for peace.” “Our arms are for hugging.” “Together, we dare to love.” One panel declares, “The smallest kindness shines bright in the dark,” which brings us to the present.

No longer will our town’s eloquent testament to peace have to stand in the dark. Because even as our nation continues to spend outrageous sums of money on preparations for war; we still need to pay attention to the hopeful messages on the Peace Wall. New lights will help accomplish this. Again, the road to the lights wasn’t that easy. At first there were objections, but eventually, with the help of Peace House, the city of Ashland, other organizations, Jean’s creative team, and volunteers and friends, the Peace Wall will be illuminated by beautiful, extremely energy-efficient lighting.

You are cordially invited to celebrate the lighting of the Peace Wall, commemorating the International Day of Peace, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, in front of the Ashland library.

Jean Bakewell will read a poem, a childhood memory of war that will remind us of what we are trying to forever avoid. Our attention will be brought to our town’s colorful mosaic of hope. We can all take pride in the journey toward peace that we are accomplishing as a community. Hopefully, the light and love from the Peace Wall will spread far and wide. And the Peace Choir will sing!

Ron Hertz lives in Ashland and is a member of the Peace Choir.