Even Gandhi Threw Rocks

When you’re growing up, the thing about water guns is that everyone has one. Then there’s that one kid who has way too many water guns, and all the latest models – your parents get nervous when he comes over. And there’s the kid whose parents wouldn’t let him have water guns. That was me. I was raised in a pacifist, Mennonite home. I had to borrow from the kid who had too many, which often meant I ended up with the broken little pistol that wouldn’t fire anyway. Needless to say, I got martyred a lot those days.

The pacifist rules extended even as far as Legos. Each time I would save up my money and buy a big Lego set, my parents would blatantly confiscate it and remove anything violent: swords, cannons, guns, even treasure chests. My Legos weren’t quite the same after that. Instead of being heroic swashbucklers, all my Lego pirates had to stand around on their island just enjoying the view.

So my home life was devoid of violence. My brother and I had to go over to other kids’ houses just to feel like the normal, reckless kids we wanted so badly to be. Our parents had a stranglehold on our fun. The longer you keep a kid from something and tell them it’s terrible, the more and more they want it. Violence was my forbidden fruit. I could only glimpse it in other kids’ lives, in their cool videogames, in their plastic guns and swords, in their Saturday morning cartoons, but never could I feel like it was my own.

After years of being forced to uphold an ideal we did not believe in, my brother and I were tired. We were tired of being unwilling pacifists in a violent world. One rainy Sunday, my brother and I decided to taste society’s fruit of violence.

That particular Sunday my parents had guests over from the church. The house was furiously cleaned, two leaves were added to our table, and the meal was better than the usual casserole. I ate my spaghetti and kept quiet. The final reward for all this sitting was yet to come.

My parents continued to entertain our guests into the afternoon, which meant no supervision the rest of the day. We would often just spend it watching slightly inappropriate television, which to us was basically anything besides Mr. Rogers. But today was different.

After the meal, my brother and I went into our musty garage. There, among all the rusty tools and worn out bike parts, I picked up my metal bat from inside a cardboard box of sports equipment. My brother immediately trumped my weapon choice by picking up my father’s axe. We stood there, in awe of what we were thinking. We had turned ordinary tools into weapons with only our minds.

We walked out of the garage feeling fifteen feet tall. Our yard sat between a factory and an alleyway, with a long garden running along one side. We knew the garden was off limits to violence; my dad gasped every time we wandered into his tomato patch looking for a lost baseball. We walked around the yard with our weapons pretending to be the violent creatures we saw on other kid’s t-shirts. I smacked branches with my bat as my brother hacked away at the dirt with his axe.

After a few minutes this got boring. All the cool violent people had enemies. We looked around for the thing that would grant us violent serenity.

There before us, calling to be destroyed, was our old family tree house. It didn’t sit on a tree, necessarily—it stood on four legs right next to a tree. The wood had weakened over the years as we had continually neglected it for edgier pursuits. It was painted an atrocious color of brown with white splotches. It looked like a sad, forgotten dog roosting on its hind legs. I had a lot of memories in this tree house; using it as a goal when my dad and I played soccer, as a loft for some sunny, picturesque family picnics, as a neighborly sandbox in which children could play. Now, its only use was to lay helpless as my brother and I approached with flaming minds.

I ran up to it and swung as hard as I could at a drooping, rotted cross brace. The board snapped right in two.


My brother took his axe and cracked a huge splinter out of a wooden leg.

“Holy cow”

“This is awesome”

After that, it was a free for all. My brother began hacking away at one of the large, supporting legs, while I broke all the smaller rotted beams. After a few minutes, the first leg cracked and our decimated victim took a bow of submission onto the wet grass. I took a turn on the axe at the second leg while my brother kicked and kicked the side until finally the whole thing came entirely down onto the yard. We climbed atop our defeated enemy and proceeded to smash and splinter every last board in sight. I hunted down small thin boards, leaned them up against the tree and cracked them joyously with my bat.

After an hour or so, our old tree house was reduced to a pile of shattered boards, twisted nails and chipped paint. I was exhausted, covered in sweat, and totally alive.

I walked back inside and went to my room, knowing my parents were going to send me there anyway when they found out what we had done. I lay down on my bed and looked up at the ceiling thinking about what I had done. It hadn’t hurt anyone, but it felt so wrong. I fell asleep laying there and didn’t wake up until the next morning when I went to school. My parents sent me to my room after I came home, but never talked much about it.

I grew up to be a convicted pacifist. But I can’t forget how powerful I felt tearing apart that tree house. I can’t forget how totally alive I felt destroying something.

About the Author

Phil Weaver-Stoesz

Phil Weaver-Stoesz is a senior at Goshen College with a Theater major and a Writing minor. He can usually be found wherever a stage set is being constructed. In November 2011 he starred as Eddie Carbone in Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge. Weaver-Stoesz has published poetry with Goshen College's Broadside series. Currently he is working on a manuscript of poems inspired by his SST experience in Cambodia and a piece of magical realism. Phil grew up in Goshen, Indiana. Although his relationship with Mennonite Church has been tumultuous in the past, he now holds a symphony of love for all things pacifist.