Thursday, July 9, 2009

Encounter with Janet Riley, an Amazingly Faithful Friend

Yesterday was a wonderful day! I had a visit from Janet Riley, a Quaker friend I've known for over 25 years who helped initiate me into Quaker peace work back in Philadelphia. She and I were involved in the citizen diplomacy movement during the 1980s and helped put together "The Human Experience," a collection of stories and poems by Soviets and Americans. The goal of this anthology was to dispel American stereotypes about Russians, and vice versa. It was the first literary anthology to be jointly edited and published in the USA and USSR and came out in 1989. Our supporters included people such as Norman Counsin, Stanley Kunitz, Yevtushenko, Garrison Keillor, et al.

When Janet felt led by the Spirit to undertake this work during the dark final days of the Cold war, she was not a Soviet expert. She was simply a Quaker housewife with a vision. With dogged determination and amazing faith, she went on to put together a series of Russian-American Quaker books, culminating in "The Power of Goodness." This tri-lingual children's book includes stories about peacemaking in Russian, English and Chechen. (See

Janet did all this work on a shoestring budget, out of her home office, with modest support from Friends and others that just barely paid her expenses.

Janet told me she doesn't want me to mention her age, so I will say only that she has at least ten more years of life experience than I do, and the youthful enthusiasm of a 30 year old! She also has a son and a daughter and several grandchildren.

For the past few years she's lived in San Luis Opisbo and has volunteered in prisons doing conflict resolution training with the Alternatives to Violence Project.

Last year she decided to go to India to help teachers at the Hariharananda Balashram, a school/ashram in the state of Orissa in the northeast part of India. The children served by this school are orphans or from single parent or very poor families. You can learn more about Balashram at:

For the past six months, Janet has been living in this community, helping out in various ways. Now she is back in the USA and plans to spend some time in NY City visiting with her daughter.

She stopped off to see me yesterday and we had a marvelous time. We had lunch at Govinda's (the Hare Krishna vegetarian restaurant in Culver City) and went to the Self-Realization Fellowship Lakeshrine. (Besides being a Quaker, Janet is a follower of Hariharananda, a guru who teaches kriya yoga like Yogananda.)

We went for a walk in the Santa Monica mountains and also along the beach. I was amazed that Janet had the stamina not only for the walk, but also for scrambling up boulders to get from the shore to the highway.

We then went to the Santa Monica pier where we had an encounter with Terry Prince, the extraordinary young black musician whose deeply spiritual music touched my soul a few weeks ago. When he saw me, he touched his hand to his heart and I did likewise. He told me later that he was so moved by our encounter that he had called his father to tell him about me. I bought a copy of Terry's CD to give to Janet. I especially wanted her to hear the lyrics that spoke to my condition and seemed to be written especially for me:

I wish the world was peace,
I wish that wars would cease.
I wish we found the cures to heal the world of all disease.
I wish it snowed someway
Everywhere on Christmas day
We’d watched the snow fall down
And take children’s breath away….
I wish that rainbows stayed in the sky
I wish grownups weren’t ashamed to cry
I wish we could pull the stars down from the sky
But the one thing I wish most in my life
Is that we never have to say goodbye…..

Unfortunately, we do have to say "goodbye" eventually to everyone and everything we love, but I like to think it's more of an "au revoir." This morning, when I gave Janet a farewell hug at the airport, I was glad that we had shared a day full of love, good memories, and amazing encounters...Such is the life of a peace maker!

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