Hold fast to dreams: On the passing of Jim Burchell

“Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is like a broken-winged bird 

That cannot fly.”

Jim Burchell in his garden.

Some of our PeaceWorks old timers may still remember this stanza from the 1923 poem “Dreams” by Langston Hughes.  This was the message you would hear when trying to leave a message for Jim Burchell at 973-765-9102.  This was back in the early 1990s, before cell phones and instant connection, a time everyone had landlines and home answering machines. Maybe Jim was attending a peace group meeting, photocopying the next PeaceWorks mailing, or roadside scavenging bicycles for our next shipment or any number of things he did each day to support the people of Nicaragua and the struggle for a more just world.  Or perhaps he was out digging in his garden’s dirt finding nourishment and sustenance for his soul in a broken world.  The phone number remains etched in my brain all these years later as is the sound of Jim’s voice.  The poem was a daily reminder of one of the essential ingredients needed to work for peace and justice — to remain hopeful and steadfast when darkness and despair were all around you.  Today, we remember the life of our friend, compañero and brother in struggle Jim Burchell, who left this world 9 years ago today.  Jim enriched us all with his courage, dedication and hope and he helped improve the lives of thousands of Nicaraguans through his selfless service as the leader of PeaceWorks.

This date also marks the 43rd anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Oscar Romero of El Salvador whose preferential option for the poor and oppressed led to his assassination while saying mass in San Salvador in 1980.  Oscar Romero was and continues to be a guiding light to those who worked in solidarity with the people of El Salvador and Nicaragua in the turbulence of the Reagan era terror campaign waged against the poor and those who had the temerity to organize for a better life.  On this day, I often reflect on the coincidence of the passing of both of these inspiring people who dreamed of a better world, one free from the violence of war, poverty, materialism and suffering.  The world, despite its continued darkness, is better for their examples.  The words of Oscar Romero inspire us to continue to journey:

“This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.”

We cannot let go of our dreams, which keeps us moving forward in the struggle to create a better world. 

In “Land of Hope and Dreams” Bruce Springsteen sings:

“I said, now, this train, dreams will not be thwarted
This train, faith will be rewarded
This train, hear the steel wheels singin’
This train, bells of freedom ringin’”

What inspires you to continue the struggle to support the self-determination and well-being of the people of Nicaragua and Central America?

Do you have a memory of Jim that you would like to share?  If so, please email me at djohnston314@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

Jim Burchell ¡Presente!

Oscar Romero ¡Presente!

In Solidarity and Struggle,

Denis Johnston, Board President


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