Time magazine said Marc Riboud’s photograph changed history.
In its obituary this week for the French photographer who died Aug. 30 at age 93, Time said the image of a 17-year-old girl holding flowers at the tip of bayonets during a 1967 anti-war rally helped sway public opinion against the Vietnam War.
The girl in the famous photograph was Jan Rose Kasmir. She is today a 66-year-old massage therapist on Hilton Head Island. And she is still a hell raiser, though she prefers to say that by still standing up for her beliefs, she’s pointing people toward heaven.
I sent her an email with three questions. This is her response.
Are you still staring down guns?
Eldridge Cleaver famously said, “If you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem.”
That is to say that I confront dragons and demons where I find them, I support waifs and widows where I find them. If a person is in need I try to respond to that and do what I can in my personal and professional life.
As a massage therapist I try to help people with their physical and spiritual health. (I try to teach people that some ailments originate with the psyche, that is “tissues and issues,” and talk about ways to deal with their stress or spiritual distress in their lives.) I never let money stand between me and taking care of people. I have provided free massage for the Professional Tennis Registry wheelchair tennis tournament since the 1980s. I have also tried very hard to introduce massage in places that I know it will be highly beneficial, such as the new drug rehabilitation center and the senior rehabilitation facilities. Unfortunately, there are some places that are not enlightened enough to recognize the benefit of such a low-tech art, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to help.
I have extended my efforts to the homeless in the last year, because that problem came to me. I am highly distressed with the response we have available to this need. Unfortunately, I’ve had to deal with a lot of frustration in trying to educate and enlighten locally. Fortunately, I do not give up easily!
I’ll be retiring from massage over the next year or two and will devote myself full-time to my pursuit of peace, which manifests itself in helping people in many ways.
My efforts have culminated in the formation of a concept called Menches in the Trenches. I believe all of our answers are grassroots; that is, we must remember that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. I want to support the people who do wonderful things, like Volunteers in Medicine locally, and inspire others to follow their lead and remember that we are all neighbors.
What difference did this photo make?
In the past almost 50 years since my photograph was taken, it’s meant very little difference in my life. Mostly it’s been a reminder of my path yet to come.
I will be publishing my autobiography shortly, “The Journey is the Trip,” and I expect it to do well on the strength of my photo. I describe it as “Girl Interrupted meets Forrest Gump meets Easy Rider!”
Upon retirement from massage I will spend my life devoted to inspiring people to make a difference! I aspire to be that 93-year-old woman chaining herself to the nuclear reactor in protest!
The photo was called a symbol of the flower power movement. What symbol does America need now?
Compassion is the touchstone of my message. While it is true there are many issues that need our attention, I believe that the keystone of my message is remembering that we are all in this together.
Facebook to me is symbolic of what is wrong in our society currently. Personally, I have never felt so liked and so lonely as when I use Facebook. It lacks substance and true connection. We suffer from isolation. Human beings need the warmth and energy of fellow human beings. The Internet does not provide this. In fact, it fosters a great deal of confusion and unhappiness. One can assume that any institution created by a corporation is necessarily going to have pitfalls. Unfortunately, with Facebook, it promotes the illusion that you are having relationships when in fact that person online more often is home alone.
Sadly, people are lost. Back in the ’60s we learned that if you sell people fear you can sell them anything. Nothing has changed. Fear is still the “Trump card.” One cannot think and be afraid simultaneously.
The short answer for your question would be a spectrum — seeing the light and understanding it is a composite of the rainbow.