April 20th, one of my heroes came to town: Dr. Benjamin Spock -- pediatrician, political activist, worker for world peace.
It was in 1966 that I first discovered Dr. Spock, when I was pregnant with the first of my four sons, and picked up a copy of Baby and Child Care (second only to the Bible in sales, it has sold 32 million copies). When Christopher was born, Spock's hook became my touchstone. He reassured me at 2 a.m. when Chris had colic and was screaming bloody murder: he soothed me when Chris had his first fever; he gave me confidence. My doctor was opposed to breast feeding and Dr. Spock helped me to follow my instinct to do so anyway.. I was impressed by Dr. Spock's willingness to go against the status quo and seek a better way, whether in the arena of child care or world peace. Over the years I observed him criticizing his government, protesting the Vietnam war, getting arrested, all in his search for a better world for our children. He became the gadfly of my conscience, who would not let me be less than I could be. So I sat down and wrote a letter of thanks to Dr. Spock. Then I drove to meet him.
We wait, several hundred people in a school auditorium clutching our Walk for Peace leaflets. Finally, an imposing figure, taller than mere mortals, wearing a dark blue suit as proper and ageless as himself, walks onstage and talks to us about raising our children in this nuclear age. Part patriarch, part crusader, part stand-up comic, he speaks with a passion that he hopes will rile us to at least write a letter or join him on the Vancouver peace march. He charms us with his enthusiasm and his ability to laugh at himself. All the women around me were transformed into Spock groupies within five minutes.
"Oh, if only he'd been my pediatrician," I hear a woman sigh and the woman to my right keeps nudging me and saying "Isn't he lovely?" He is lovely. But he is there to warn us and to challenge us. "1 believe there is an even chance we will be wiped out in a nuclear war," he tells us. "In the U.S. seventy percent are for disarmament. The problem is to get them active. When it comes to saving our own skins, our children's or our grandchildren's, people are paralyzed. If all those who believe in disarmament pressured the government we could turn this thing around!"
He knows the goal is a long-term one and he doesn't want us to get discouraged. "It was embarrassing for me to go on the Easter peace walks in the U.S.," he tells us. "I felt as though I'd been caught in a rain. I cringed! I was carrying a sign and I wondered what was the point of making a fool of myself." But he kept right on walking, and at 83 he is still walking.
"I was brought up so namby-pamby," he relates, chuckling. "I didn't even go out on Halloween! When I heard that the Berrigan brothers were protesting the Vietnam war by stealing military records and pouring duck's blood on them I thought to myself, 'Oh, that's naughty!' I was 60 years of age before I became politically active. I'm ashamed it took me so long."
Then he tells us the story of himself and 150 clergy who were demonstrating against the Vietnam war in the rotunda at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. "They told us to go and we pretended we didn't hear. They finally brought in the cops and I realized I was going to be arrested. You'd see a cop coming and you'd think 'Oh, good, he's arresting that minister instead of me.' But finally one came for me and I thought, 'What will my mother say?"' They were called off in paddy wagons, flashing the peace sign and singing.
One minister smuggled a Bible into the jail. "We passed it around and sang hymns until 2:30 am. The clergy were elated about this chance to be naughty!" Dr. Spock's mother was in a nursing home. The nurse said, "Benny got arrested again." His mother replied calmly, "Well, it was probably in a good cause."
His protests have always been in a good cause, but not everyone has been able to see that. Even youth sometimes judge him harshly. He recounts giving a talk at a Catholic university to a thousand students and having them ask "How do you justify being a traitor to your country?" He can still make people nervous. "When I came in last night from the Virgin Islands, where I now live, an immigration officer asked me gruffly, 'What are you going to do in Canada?' He thought I was dangerous. It's wonderful to be thought of as so dangerous that I might start a revolution!" Spock warns us not to trust the government. "We think that government people know better than us. In my experience, they don't know beans!"
He gets a standing ovation at the end of his talk and then I join the others who gather in front of the stage. He leans forward from his great height to shake every hand. Finally, it is my turn. "You've been my hero for many years," I say.
"That's amazing" he replies, as though he can't imagine why he would be anybody's hero, and he reaches out with his massive paw to envelope my hand in his. I hand him the letter and leave this lovely man to the other groupies. When he is finally finished he turns to go and trips and falls heavily, his foot vanishing into a hole behind the lights. We gasp. He picks himself up, pulling his leg out of the hole. "This stage is booby trapped," he states. "It must be Reagan!" We are all relieved that he isn't hurt. He walks off stage, tired but tireless, to finally get some sleep.
On April 25th Dr. Benjamin Spock and 60,000 walked for peace. The baby doctor towered above the marchers like some benevolent colossus. I'm sure his mother, wherever she is now, would be very proud of her namby-pamby Benny.