Ribbon of Peace, Ribbon of Tangible Hope
On August 4, 1985 (August 5 on the other side of our time zone) a strange and wonderful sight was seen in Washington, DC. It was the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The Pentagon building was encircled by a beautiful Ribbon of gorgeous colors and designs. On closer examination, you would have seen that this Ribbon was made up of hundreds of panels of artwork, tied together end to end, held by scores of peaceful, smiling women and men from all over the country. So long was this Ribbon that it not only embraced the Pentagon, but continued for miles through the city to the Capitol, past the Washington Monument, and on to the Lincoln Memorial. (Originally, the Ribbon was envisioned as only going around the Pentagon, but so many people--men, women, children--responded that their creations made a Ribbon ten miles long when tied together.)
Each panel was a hand-crafted work of art, made by some person who wanted to express his or her prayer for peace by creating a beautiful picture or design or poem on a muslin cloth panel, "stitching" it into life by embroidering, crocheting, quilting, knitting, weaving, painting, or various other ways that their inspiration could be expressed.
Those were the days when the Cold War and threats of nuclear war were hanging over our country and the world, and people were searching for ways to express their yearning for peace in non-violent ways that came from their hearts, that would speak to the hearts of leaders, not only of our nation but of the world. Read the attached article from a Bailey, Colorado newspaper to find out how the Ribbon was born in the heart of one woman--Justine Merritt--who, back in the early 80's, decided to transform her fears into prayers for peace by using her needle and thread. See how her ribbon grew into the 1985 Ribbon of peace with thousands of other hands sewing their prayers for peace.
The Cold War ended, but September 11 brought us face-to-face with the reality that we in America--and all the people in the world--are again faced with potential destruction of our loved ones and, indeed, of the whole earth which is our home.
Today, in the aftermath of September 11, Justine is back on a pilgrimage, going from place to place, sharing her message to revive hope, inspiring people to express their fears, prayers, and dearest hopes by sowing/sewing--seeds of peace, with their pieces.
Can you visualize a new, beautiful Ribbon of Tangible Hope that will "connect the World Trade Center site, the United Nations, and a Muslim shrine, in peace and understanding"?
Peace Advocate Comes to Bailey
Bailey, Colo.-In her 77 years upon this earth, Justine Merritt has stitched together the most significant of lives.
The septuagenarian, who has no home address, travels the world lightly: two suitcases, a Bible and a laptop computer. And always, always a needle, pieces of cloth, embroidery floss and an enduring wish for world peace.
Justine's guiding vision inspired thousands of people in the United States to weave their love and fears together into a collective fabric, known as The Ribbon, which for three glory-filled minutes encircled the Pentagon in 1985.
Justine was living in Denver in 1982. Following a period of personal crisis, she turned her back on atheism and embraced the Catholic church.
She remained haunted by the threat of nuclear war and its unspeakable horror. She prayed for an answer as she quickly wrote "Gift," a poem eventually published in 1993 in her collected works.
Rather than writing to public officials or participating in public demonstrations, Justine chose to use the power of the needle to make a difference.
"The ribbon I envisioned would be a symbol of peace encircling a symbol of war," recalled Justine, "and it would be tied around the Pentagon on August of 1985, the fortieth anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
She shared her concept with one of the Sisters of Loretto, who listened patiently and nodded approvingly.
"Later I found out P.J. thought I was crazy," Justine reminisced with a laugh.
She took up "her little weapon, the needle," and began to embroider the names of nearly 300 loved ones who might be lost in a nuclear war. It is a bright piece, splashed with vibrant color and aching with love. It took Justine two years to complete the banner, which became the cornerstone of The Ribbon.
There was no information super highway in those days, and networking was a slow, arduous process. Eventually, however, Justine would meet kindred souls with the ecumenical Church Woman United, who were working on their own national project, under the theme "Pieces to Peace."
The lives of unprecedented numbers of private citizens were touched by The Ribbon. The internationally acclaimed author, Studs Terkel, who wrote the foreword of a book commemorating the miraculous Ribbon project wrote, "Hundreds of people stopped what they were doing to make a Ribbon panel, to say to the world and every person in it that love is important."
On Aug. 4, 1985, 15,000 people gathered in Arlington, Va., with individual banners measuring 18 inches by 36 inches. All the stitching, embroidering, weaving, quilting, and painting - when tied end to end - stretched for 10 miles around the Pentagon.
At the age of 57, Justine addressed the crowd at the same pulpit from which the late Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his final speech.
This single project inspired similar Ribbon projects in South Africa, Japan, Okinawa, England, Germany, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, and Brazil. In 1989, Arab and Israeli children worked together to make Ribbons.
As testament to the importance of the Ribbon, 25 banners hang in the political collection at the Smithsonian Institution. Banners also hang in the Oakland Museum, Texas Woman's University, and discussion is under way for the Colorado Historical Society to acquire a number of banners made by Coloradans.
The former Soviet Union's Premier Miyhail Gorbachev and former Indian Prime Minister Raghit Ghandi were entrusted with two of Justine's works.
Her inaugural panel today hangs in the Chicago Peace Museum. Her second panel is housed in a small museum in Sweden, and a third panel, given to Pope John Paul by Justine, is located in the Vatican.
There is something deceivingly simple about Justine's embroidery. The peace and orderliness which prevail in the front are belied by the chaos of threads running in all directions, and oftentimes simply left hanging from the back of the fabric. The backs of each panel, Justine acknowledges, are her signatures.
Justine has taken her mission of international peace through tourism to heart. On June 15 [this year] she officially gave up her home, leaving only a forwarding address. But no matter where in this world she finds herself, she is always at the door of friends and loved ones.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy, her international travels have taken on an increasing urgency. "We were all shaken," Justine noted.
She is busy today "sowing seeds" around the world. She knows she will not live to see it, but prays a new Ribbon will connect the World Trade Center site, the United Nations, and a Muslim shrine, in peace and understanding.
--Friday, Nov. 30, 2001 - PARK COUNTY REPUBLICAN AND FAIRPLAY FLUME