“We who work for peace must not falter. We must continue to pray for peace and to act for peace in whatever way we can, we must continue to speak for peace and to live the way of peace; to inspire others, we must continue to think of peace and to know that peace is possible.” ~ Peace Pilgrim
I remember the first time I heard about Peace Pilgrim. I was at meditation gathering in NYC and the leader read a bit from the book Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words. I had heard about many saints, mystics and sages who carried the message of peace, but most of them lived in other parts of the world or in other times. As I learned more about the life of Peace Pilgrim, it was hard to image a woman who had so much strength, courage and faith to make the journey of “25,000 miles on foot for peace” right here in the United States. And, as it turned out not only did she achieve that goal, but she surpassed it, becoming a guiding light for peace in our world whose message continues to inspire people today.
Peace Pilgrim was born Mildred Lisette Norman in Egg Harbor City, NJ on July 18, 1908. She was the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season in 1952 and this led into her journey of walking for peace. She began her walk for peace in Pasadena, California on January 1st, 1953, intending to cross the country for peace one time and when she died in 1981, she had walked across America seven times, possibly even more. She had stopped counting when she achieved her goal of 25,000 miles for peace in 1964.
As Mildred set off from the Rose Bowl Parade in 1953, she left behind her name and all of her belongings, taking on the title of Peace Pilgrim. It was there that she began her journey of walking for peace with just a blue tunic labeled “Peace Pilgrim” on the front and “25,000 miles for peace” on the back. She carried a few belongings in her pockets but had no money and no organizational support. She was a woman on her own choosing to walk for peace. As she began her pilgrimage, she vowed to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.”
Peace Pilgrim’s journey spanned close to three decades; she continued to walk until her passing in 1981. She walked for peace through the period of the Korean and Vietnam Wars and beyond. During that time, Peace Pilgrim was a frequent speaker at churches, universities, and on radio and television. She was a true messenger of peace!
Today, the Friends Of Peace Pilgrim continue to carry her message and share her legacy of peace with the world. Reading her book, Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, is like being on a pilgrimage with her. And, her final talk given on the day before her death has become a spiritual guidebook for cultivating peace, Steps Toward Inner Peace.
Here are some of the words of Peace Pilgrim offered:
“You have much more power when you are working for the right thing than when you are working against the wrong thing. And, of course, if the right thing is established wrong things will fade away of their own accord. Grass-roots peace work is vitally important. All who work for peace belong to a special peace fellowship — whether we work together or apart.”
“In order for the world to become peaceful, people must become more peaceful. Among mature people war would not be a problem — it would be impossible. In their immaturity people want, at the same time, peace and the things which make war. However, people can mature just as children grow up. Yes, our institutions and our leaders reflect our immaturity, but as we mature we will elect better leaders and set up better institutions. It always comes back to the thing so many of us wish to avoid: working to improve ourselves.”
“The world may look at you and believe that you are facing great problems, but always there are the inner resources to easily overcome the problems. Nothing seems difficult. There is a calmness and a serenity and unhurriedness—no more striving or straining about anything. That’s a very important thing I’ve learned. If your life is in harmony with your part in the Life Pattern, and if you are obedient to the laws which govern this universe, then life is full and life is good but life is nevermore overcrowded. If it is overcrowded, then you are doing more than is right for you to do—more than is your job to do in the total scheme of things.”
“We can all spend our lives going about doing good. Every time you meet a person, think of some encouraging thing to say – a kind word, a helpful suggestion, an expression of admiration. Every time you come into a situation, think of some good thing to bring – a thoughtful gift, a considerate attitude, a helping hand.”
“In this world you are given as you give
And you are forgiven as you forgive –
While you go your way
Through each lovely day
You create your future as you live.”
Of all the messages that Peace Pilgrim shared, the message of her life and her commitment to peace is the one that speaks to me the most. She showed us in her words and her actions that peace is a choice that we can all make and as she shared so beautifully,
“One little person giving all her time to peace, can make news. Many people giving some of their time, can make history.”
What can you do today to choose peace? How can you create more peace in your own life? In your relationships? In the world?
In the spirit of Peace Pilgrim, I have begun walking daily with the intention of cultivating peace. For now it is just in my neighborhood, but imagine if each person would just walk a few steps for peace each day, how that might change our world. I hope you will join me in taking a step toward peace today.