Not a minute too soon, a $10,000 donation has come into the life of Marlow Boyer. At 25, he is an honors graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle, a skilled writer and photographer, the son of a senior writer at National Geographic and a peacemaker who believes Americans and Russians will share a safer future as friends, not enemies. Boyer has been suffering for the past 10 months from Ewing's sarcoma, a rare cancer. He has been told by doctors at the National Cancer Institute that death may come soon. At the moment, he is an outpatient living at home in Bethesda with his parents.
The story of the $10,000 gift and Boyer's work for peace would be worth telling regardless of his illness. That he does have cancer -- and has written and lectured about it -- adds a haunting beauty to the idealism of a young man using his last days to take out a brick or two in the wall of hatred between Americans and Russians.
In the spring of 1983, Boyer was one of 31 citizens from Seattle who traveled to four cities in the Soviet Union -- Moscow, Leningrad, Samarkand and Tashkent. The purpose of the excursions was a people- to-people exchange on the need to eliminate the us-and-them lies, fears and hostilities that leaders of each country perpetuate about the other. Seattle and Tashkent, in addition to being sister cities and regional centers of culture, are sites where weapons of annihilation are built or based. While in Tashkent, a city of the interior that is geographically closer to Mongolia than to Moscow, Boyer and his party distributed copies of 4,000 letters of peace that had been signed by 42,000 citizens of Seattle.
In recent years, cross-cultural programs have been common -- from the Volga Peace Cruise to the USA-USSR Citizens Dialogue, founded by Carol Pendell of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. There have been the well-publicized and worthwhile trips of everyone from Billy Graham to Samantha Smith.
The Seattle-Tashkent exchange is unique because of "People to People," an inspiring audio-visual show that breathes openheartedness. It is Boyer's production. It combines exquisite photography with narration, music and the comments of Russians and Americans recorded live on location. The program has a stunning professionalism to it, worthy of the son of a journalist who for 33 years has been a master craftsman at National Geographic. "People to People" is one of the few pieces of film work that record the development of personal relationships between Russians and Americans.
The $10,000 came to Boyer through the assistance of the Forum Institute, a Washington-based research and policy organization. The money is to be used in converting the still-photography of "People to People" into a film and a videotape. It can then be distributed nationally in a way now impossible in a slide-show format.
Moviemaking was not the way Marlow Boyer had planned to spend whatever time is left to him. But he has chosen to listen both to the urgings of his own hopes and to the encouraging praise given to his peace film by everyone from the cultural attache' of the Soviet Embassy to officials at the State Department. Boyer's convictions are in the tradition of classic peacemaking: that the force of beauty -- as revealed in his film -- and that the mere force of dialogue among human beings are more effective forces for peace than weapons. Hope is the ultimate deterrent, not the bomb.
Boyer is a credible peacemaker because of the remarkable tranquillity he is displaying about the destruction cancer is now inflicting on his body. I spent five hours with him the other evening. There was not a word of self-pity or remorse. He had a writer's fascination with a new subject, in his case the medical maneuverings of cancer treatment. He tells of participating in "a truly guinea pig-like way in a 'phase one study' of a new drug that has only recently been introduced to human populations. It has never been administered to patients with Ewing's sarcoma. The tests they are performing have more to do with documenting the various levels of toxicity and the side effects that can be caused by the drug than they are with the actual treatment of the disease. As (one doctor) put it, 'There are significant benefits to be gained by your participating in the study -- it's just that the benefits will not necessarily accrue to you personally.' Fair enough. It beats sitting on my ass and watching the grass grow."
With "People to People" assured of a wider and wider audience, the life of Marlow Boyer will also be better known. Fewer idealists are more deserving of the nation's thanks, and fewer peacemakers have defied greater odds -- either in their own future or the planet's.