In May 1948, on the warm night of the last day
of my junior year in high school, when I was 16,
I put an end to my father’s beating me
with a rubber hose.
He’d escalated to this weapon for his wholly
unjustified punishments some years earlier.
On the night in question, as I made my way
through the darkened house toward the room
I shared with my brother,
I sensed my father’s presence before seeing him
with that garden hose doubled over in his hand.
He ordered me to lie down on the bed
as I’d always done.
It suddenly came to me
that I didn’t have to take this any longer.
My refusal triggered a struggle in which he tried
to force me down. I responded by wrapping
my arms around his neck and lifting my feet
from the floor so that I hung deadweight down
the front side of his body, absorbing all his energy.
Within seconds he went limp with exhaustion,
and I removed my arms from around his neck,
ending forever his physical violence toward me.
As the years passed I saw a straight line from
the violence of my father to the violence of my country,
the extremity of the former fortunately no worse than
a rubber hose, but of the latter enough nuclear force
to end human life on Planet Earth several times over.
When in 1978 I learned about Rocky Flats, where
the fissile core of every U.S. nuclear warhead was made,
I sought with others to stop what was done there.
In nonviolence training for my first civil disobedience
at Rocky Flats, we did a role-play called “deadweight”
in which you contain a belligerent person’s behavior
by hanging yourself deadweight down that person’s torso.
Tears burst from my eyes. Amazingly,
what I’d done spontaneously at age 16 was being taught
in carefully choreographed nonviolence training.
My father, I realized, without knowing he was doing so,
had made a great gift to me,
for he had planted within me the seed of nonviolence
and had even brought it to blossom.
As for Rocky Flats, an eventual fruit of the flowering
of nonviolent resistance was to end production there
of nuclear bombs, the extremity of violence.