HAUNTING IMAGES of the bloodied citizens of Bosnia, uprooted and defiled as they try to go about the desperate business of their daily lives, have hung like a muttering shadow over my privileged and happy life. Like everyone else who watches in horror as the slaughter proceeds, I have felt outraged and frustrated. But what could I do? What could anyone do?

Then, on the eve of my recent concert tour, I was invited to Bosnia to sing. "When do we leave?" I replied. Postponing three concerts in response to the urgency of my Bosnian hosts, I flew to Sarajevo with my guitarist Paul Pesco. Perhaps, I thought, I could lift the spirits of a people who had been under siege for more than a year.

I had nothing to offer but an act of love, sharing, witness and music. I didn't have an answer to the horror. There is as yet no answer to this nightmare of mindless violence. But I could respond with an act of nonviolence. When a newsman suggested I would be fiddling while Rome burns, I recalled a line from a millworker's song: "Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread but give us roses." I would take my finest roses to Sarajevo.

The Sarajevo Holiday Inn is a notoriously dangerous place, the front entrance a favorite target for snipers. A man was shot there during our stay. My skin crept beneath my bulletproof vest, and I was relieved to see the underground auto entrance.

My room had running water and electricity, both rarities, and, more common, a huge plastic-covered hole where the window had been. Every night reverberated with the sound of exploding artillery shells. And every morning the staff swept up the broken glass and debris. A man came to fix a broken pipe in my bathroom and explained animatedly, wrench in hand, what a magnificent hotel this had once been and how it would be again. I began to understand how important was the pretense of normalcy in the midst of chaos.

My blown-out window, framed by shards of shattered glass, offered a view of bullet-riddled vehicles, burnt buildings, potholed roads and beautiful green hills, deceptively peaceful and dangerously populated with snipers and heavy artillery. The level of destruction is numbing, the persistence of hope unfathomable. Beneath my window was a row of stumps. The trees had been chopped down for firewood during the past winter. Unwilling to abandon the hope of spring, people collected the branches of the remaining trees and put them in water. In offices and homes everywhere are the blossoming branches of what may be Sarajevo's final spring.

We saw the famous local production of "Hair," defiantly presented once a week despite the chaos of the siege. "It keeps me from going completely crazy," one actor told me. As the young cast began its soulfully energetic performance, I realized the starving cast was performing on spirit alone. A week before, two of them had been taken to the hospital for fatigue and malnutrition. But they were not a bit crazy. They were inventing a life.

Our aging armored car collapsed one day and we had to walk, the echo of artillery punctuating every step. Amid the rubble of a bakery, I heard the strains of a cello and saw Vedran Smailovic, dressed in a tuxedo. He was playing the adagio he had played there for 22 days in memory of the 22 people, including his brother, who were killed when a shell hit the bakery. I knelt next to his chair, overcome with emotion. His face was drenched in tears. His playing celebrated the marvel of survival and mourned the madness of death. We embraced, and I sang "Amazing Grace." I spent the rest of the day in the dazed calm of sorrow. That would not have been a bad day to die.

Another evening found us in a haze of smoke and booze, laughter and music. Paul played requests and local musicians sang and drummed on the tables. A Serbian star of "Hair" sang a Macedonian Gypsy rumba, and suddenly our host, a law professor who had watched over us with meticulous care, was on a table, dancing, and reaching for my hand. I jumped up, and as we danced, the table collapsed. We fell in a hilarious heap of bread and wine and ashtrays. Too happy to leave, I sang until my throat was raw. And, for a few hours, there was no war.

Our public concert was a major risk. It is dangerous to have many people in one place in Sarajevo, and the theater held 300. Twice as many came and refused to leave. I looked out at the faces of Sarajevo, some of them exhausted, others weeping softly. The shelling provided a staccato accompaniment to Paul's superb guitar. But no one blinked. It was as if we had conspired to pretend it didn't exist, and there was only the music. We played familiar songs, and people sang along. The kids, like kids anywhere, preferred the new songs from my latest album.

We ended the concert with our friends from "Hair" and a song they'd taught us in their language. The audience erupted in excitement. As we finished, an old woman approached the stage beaming and gave us three big dolls and a red heart she had made from scraps of material. She had walked seven miles to bring us these gifts.

For brief moments then, as now, I shared the righteous and understandable desire to bring in the big guns and blast Sarajevo's tormenters out of the hills. But history rises before me. That way lies more retaliation, more hatred, more agony, more dead children. The real enemy, the enemy of us all, is nationalism gone mad. It is stalking the world. And we are addicted to it as hopelessly as the Serbians and the Bosnians and the Croatians.

The day I left, a young girl said to me, "Thank you for coming to Sarajevo. You brought us life." The people of Bosnia are not afraid to die. They are only afraid they will be forgotten. To overcome that fear, we must rise above the horror and bring other performers to Sarajevo. By treating Sarajevo as the cultural center it once was, actors, artists, musicians and performers of all kinds could give its brave people a powerful weapon in their struggle against extermination. The young people hope the next miracle will bring Magic Johnson to Sarajevo. Now, there would be some mighty roses!

Joan Baez visited Sarajevo at the invitation of the Open Society Fund of Bosnia-Herzegovina and in association with Refugees International.