by Dinah Starr
A vivid picture in my mind is that of Brayton Shanley standing with Paul Hood under the portico of the Cambridge Friends Meeting. It was 1979. Paul invited me to join a Bible study group focusing on peace, the start of a journey which would change my life, giving it a new and true direction.
The group was called Ailanthus after the urban tree with strong enough roots to push up through cracks in sidewalks. We gathered every Sunday evening to study the Bible and writings on nonviolence. Each Monday morning, we held a vigil at Draper Laboratories, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was designing the guidance systems for nuclear missiles.
Periodically some of us would trespass at Draper, be arrested and and sentenced to up to thirty days in jail in Billerica House of Corrections, where Paul served multiple sentences. His personality, his background in AA, and his status as an ex-Marine helped him to make good connections with both prisoners and guards.
Paul and I both lived at Haley House, a Catholic Worker house in the South End of Boston where volunteers served breakfast and lunch to homeless men six days a week. We shared the Friday morning shift, always serving American chop suey. Paul’s cooking theory was: when in doubt, add more onions.
In the 80s, Paul and I made a trip to Japan to an international conference of peace activists sponsored by the Nipponzan Myohoji, the Japanese order who built the Peace Pagoda in Leverett, Mass. Paul met with Gyotsu Sato, a former Japanese military officer turned monk – an encounter of two ex-warriors from opposite sides of a terrible conflict, both now dedicated to the cause of peace. Wherever we went, we met Japanese people moved to see a man who had served in the US occupation of Japan and who returned to them in peace.
Later, we were invited to attend a gathering of a small peace group in Osaka where Paul spoke, after which, one of the participants said: “This speech was more moving than any of the speeches at the conference”.
Paul’s devoted partner for twenty years, Martha and Martha’s mother, Stella, welcomed my partner John and me into their home and truly became family to us, for which we will be eternally grateful. Paul was always there for me, giving advice and support, sharing his latest spiritual discoveries. I recently came across this vision statement, which belongs to a group which calls itself ElderSpirit:
We are the mentors; the wisdom keepers….the ones who bestow the blessings of spiritual legacy. …the survivors with a story to tell that can save others. … The ones who serve notice that it is possible to transcend “doing” in favor of “being.” …the models of what it means to arrive wounded and triumphant at the end. We are the mapmakers for the final uncharted part of the journey. We are the elders.
Paul was truly a mentor to many, a survivor with a story which he freely shared with others. And at the end I saw him as wounded and triumphant; triumphant because he knew he was on to something, that he would be able on some plane of existence, to continue down a true path, wherever it might lead.
Dinah, Brayton and Suzanne, were among the co-founders of Ailanthus: A Nonviolent Witness for Peace in 1979, and have been life-long friends of each other and of Paul.