Thank you for this precious day
These gifts you give to me
My heart so full of love for you
Sings praise for all i see
Oh sing for every mother's child
For every childhood tear
Oh sing for all the stars above
The peace beyond all fear
This is for the refugees
The ones without a home
A boat out on the ocean
A city street alone
Are they not some dear mother's child
Are they not you and i
Are we the ones to bear this shame
And they this sacrifice
-From Falling Leaves by John Denver
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you mention the name John Denver? Perhaps it's the song Take Me Home Country Roads or the tender ballads Today or Annie's Song, or perhaps it's the image of that mild-mannered grocery clerk who had an encounter with George Burns in the Movie Oh God!
For Hank Bruce, a Bread for the World member from Rio Rancho, N.M., the songs and the works of John Denver (a native New Mexican) were a source of inspiration for an entire book, Peace Beyond All Fear, a Tribute to John Denver's Vision. The book, a collection of 15 short stories, celebrates peace, the environment and the human spirit. This book is being released on Sept. 20, just a couple of weeks before the 10th anniversary of John Denver's death. Hank's book is comprised of messages inspired by John Denver's music; they are not the stories behind the songs.
"As we rediscovered some of the other songs and learned more of the amazing amount of work he did for peace, hunger solutions, the environment and the human condition we amassed a good collection of his work, including some that was never officially recorded, or was little heard in this country," said Hank. "As I listened to these songs, and learned more about this genius humanitarian, stories appeared."
The song Falling Leaves, which is the basis of one of the 15 stories as well as the title of the book, continues to have special relevance today. According to Hank, John Denver wrote the song about the plight of refugees everywhere. In the story, Hank takes us to Darfur and a small medical team working with the victims of this desert conflict, but we also look over the shoulder of a homeless Viet Nam veteran as his dream becomes a reality in Pittsburgh's inner city. "The gift of peace is one each of us can both give and receive," says Hank.
Another song, I Want to Live, also has special significance because it was written when John Denver was working in President Jimmy Carter's Hunger Commission. The song inspired Hank's story Listen to the Children, in which a grandfather and his granddaughter build an AIDS Orphanage in Kenya where they are visited by a lady with the gift of hope.
For Hank and his wife Tomi Jill Folk, I Want to Live, has an even deeper meaning. It is the unofficial theme song for organization they helped create called Hunger Grow Away, which uses gardening as a tool to fight hunger in the US and around the world.
Other John Denver ballads inspired the human side of an elderly Alzheimer's patient (Homegrown Tomatoes), the healing process for an alcoholic Native American (On the Wings of an Eagle), care for the environment (Whose Garden Was This? -Lyrics by Tom Paxton), love, courage and inner peace (Whispering Jesse and Annie's Song).
Other stories treat contemplated suicide, the tragic lost love of a scientist in Alaska, a group of school children planting flowers on a former bombing range, a veteran returning from war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and another explores the relationship between a captured Iraqi insurgent and a Quaker who befriends him. Drugs, oil and arms dealers are also the focus of one of the stories, and another explores the health issues of the Native Americans who worked with and live near the uranium mines in New Mexico.
Signed copies of the book (which retails at $19.95) will be available through Petals and Pages Press (a publishing company that handles Hunger Grow Away materials) on Sept. 20. Send an e-mail note to: email@example.com if you would like to purchase a copy of the book. The book will be sold at bookstores and through Amazon.com on Oct. 1. All proceeds from this book will be donated to Hunger Grow Away to help fund some of their food security and nutrition programs.
The release of the book will be part of a global celebration, 11 Days of Peace, put together by We The World, a place where the many movements for social change come together in an ongoing mass public education campaign for Peace on Earth and Peace With Earth.
Hank Bruce is a writer, horticultural therapist, hunger activist, teacher and speaker. He is the former president of the Florida Chapter of the American Horticultural Therapy Association. Hank has conducted research on the use of plants, flowers and gardening activities as therapeutic tools with stroke and Alzheimer's patients, and the value of gardening activities in the treatment of victims of domestic violence and substance abuse. In April 2007 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Florida Chapter of the American Horticultural Therapy Association and in 2001 he was given the Humanitarian of the Year Award by the American Horticultural Therapy Association. He has also done research on micro-intensive vegetable gardening systems that can be adaptable for use by gardeners with limitations, and for those living where there is limited water, space, soil or other resources. He is the program director of a non-profit food security organization.