Yesterday was a normal day, aside from the fact that I was a little earlier than usual. Marvin, who drives the bus, greeted me when I boarded his bus outside my house with “Hello, stranger,” reminding me that I hadn’t been able to get myself out the door before eight for over a week. I found a seat and read a few pages of my book on the way to the Pentagon Metro. Before he opened the bus doors at the Pentagon, Marvin called out for us all to have a good day, which is what he says every day, unless the weather is bad, in which case he tells us "Now let's be careful out there." For some reason I noticed a tall woman with short blonde hair and a long red coat alighting from nearby bus as I stepped down onto the sidewalk. I followed her up the escalator toward the Metro.
On a lawn near the entrance to the Metro, a group of about 20 people joined hands to form a circle, their heads bowed in prayer, while one woman read aloud from a Bible. There are often demonstrators in this area during my morning commute, especially on days when I am early, though not usually a group this big. Last week I saw two women holding up signs that said “Thank You.” More frequently, I see a group of four to six people with anti-war messages printed on their signs. One woman regularly carries a sign that tells soldiers heading into the Pentagon “You are killing and dying to make Bush and Cheney rich.” The demonstrators never chant or yell. They just talk to each other and stand there with their signs.
Yesterday was different. The group was larger than I’d ever seen it before, and there were at least a dozen Pentagon police on hand to supervise. Six or seven lined the walkway between the demonstrators and the Metro entrance (although they didn’t stand between the demonstrators and the commuters on the way into the Metro). One sat on a motorcycle nearby, and several others stood talking to him. Maybe these police officers wouldn’t have surprised me—I’ve grown accustomed to seeing bulky men with large guns around Washington over the past three years—but there was one that stood out. The lawn sloped up beyond the demonstrators, and at the top of the rise stood a single officer, holding his gun in front of him, watching as they prayed in the damp chill of the February morning.
I didn’t read any more of my book on the Metro ride. Instead I thought about the scene I’d witnessed. I don’t know the politics of the people praying—they had laid their signs on the grass while they prayed. I hadn’t been able to hear the woman who was reading. I hadn’t even stopped to watch or try to hear, though I slowed my pace to take in the scene. Now the image of that military policy officer holding what looks to me like an automatic weapon is burned into my memory. I considered who he was protecting. The demonstrators? The commuters? The building? And what was he protecting them from? He seemed more threatening than protective to me. The other soldiers seemed less imposing, less ominous. In spite of the guns slung over their shoulders and dangling in front of them, I was less concerned by the men who stood casually talking than by the man who stood silently in the background, his feet apart and his gun in hand. I wondered if that officer could hear the prayer, if he listened to what the woman with the Bible was reading.
When I came up onto