The Heiwa Peace Pilgrimage delegation began its journey on August 1st and will be visiting with their interfaith partners in Japan for ten days. This guest blog post was composed jointly by three youth pilgrims from All Souls Church Unitarian (Washington, D.C.): Vicky Nier, Aheri Stanford-Asiyo, and James Ploeser.
“Obama will say, ‘I’m sorry.’ This I hope. I hope…”
These were the words of a Hiroshima resident who approached a member of our group last night. On the eve of the 69th anniversary, his greatest wish was for the US government to finally issue an apology for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. His English was better than our Japanese, so with the assistance of a smartphone — but without any hint of animosity towards us as Americans — he expressed his opinion with the same warmth and kindness that has repeatedly humbled our group of pilgrims. Motivated by love for humanity rather than a desire for vengeance, all he wanted was an apology.
Sadly, at the top levels of our government no such words have been spoken, no such forgiveness asked. Even so, the people of Hiroshima and of Japan have greeted us with a nearly inexplicable hospitality. Our RKK hosts have outdone themselves at every opportunity to extend offers of friendship and love, demonstrating to us in a most powerful way the capacity — and the responsibility — of everyday people to sow and nurture the seeds of reconciliation.
Our day began fittingly, under a steady downpour making our way to join over 45,000 others in Hiroshima Peace Park for the annual commemoration. Grade school children offered wishes for peace. The Japanese prime minister offered condolences and renewed calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Gray and black birds flew overhead, disappearing into the trees that surrounded the rows of endless white folding chairs.
Afterwards, we returned to the Hiroshima Dharma Center of the RKK.
We exchanged gifts. We bonded. We made memories. We opened our hearts to one another in friendship. Although at our luncheon tables we spoke little of politics or of the deplorable events of 69 years ago, every word, every bow, every smile, was an offering of peace.
Later in the night the Pilgrims not staying with host families returned to Ground Zero to participate in the floating of lanterns down the river in downtown Hiroshima. The prayers of the Heiwa Peace delegates included:
“May every flower touched by tragedy grow back as beautifully as Hiroshima.”
“May no child, no family, ever face such horror again.”
“May we all live together in peace one day.”
“May all those who suffered here find comfort; may we the living work for an enduring peace”
It’s been moving and powerful and exciting and exhausting and wonderful. Though we cannot pretend to apologize for an entire nation, our work here is sprouting new opportunities for reconciliation and friendship. We are humbled, and grateful to have shared this momentous, beautiful and tragic day with the wonderful people of Hiroshima.