"This is the way of peace:
Overcome evil with good,
and falsehood with truth,
and hatred with love."
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I want to honor a white, American woman named Peace Pilgrim. Peace Pilgrim was an enlightened saint, who walked for peace for 28 years. She walked over 25,000 miles vowing to "remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food."
Born Mildred Norman Ryder, Peace spent 15 years in spiritual practice, contemplation, and growth. During this time she was married and divorced and worked at a variety of jobs. First she worked with senior citizens and those with emotional problems. Later, she volunteered in peace organizations, including the Quaker American Friends Service Committee, the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission, the United Nations Council of Philadelphia, and many others.
In 1952, she became the first woman to hike the entire 2050 mile-long Appalachian Trail in one season. It was during this journey, that she achieved complete inner peace and discovered her calling.
“I was out walking in the early morning. All of a sudden I felt very uplifted, more uplifted than I had ever been. I remember I knew timelessness and spacelessness and lightness. I did not seem to be walking on the earth...but...every flower, every bush, every tree, seemed to wear a halo. There was a light emanation around everything and flecks of gold fell like slanted rain through the air. The most important part was not the phenomena: the important part of it was the realization of the oneness of all creation...”
Peace began fulfilling her spiritual mission on January 1, 1953, when she stepped off for her first cross country walk, starting in Pasadena , California and ending 5,000 miles later in New York . She put on a pair of canvas sneakers, donned dark blue slacks, blouse, and a tunic - on which she had sown her new name. (She chose blue because it was the international color for peace). Her only baggage was a toothbrush and a comb.
Her life’s journey ended on July 7, 1981. By this time, Peace had been forced to accept rides in order to make her many speaking engagements. On the way to a radio interview, an oncoming car crossed the median strip, striking head-on the car Peace was riding in. Peace died instantaneously. She always lived in the present moment, and when Spirit called, she did not hesitate to go.
I honor Peace Pilgrim as a great American woman. She walked alone around our country, sleeping in ditches, never afraid, because she saw the good in everyone. She believed that the world is what you think about it and see in it and, because she only saw good, she met no harm.
I have had personal experience with this myself. Several years ago, I decided to do a cross country drive in my Escort station wagon. I planned on camping out most of the time. I can’t tell you how many women came up to me and said, “Aren’t you afraid?” I replied, “No, I’m not afraid. Why should I be?” You see, since I didn’t watch tv or read the news I didn’t know I was supposed to be afraid! I spent six months doing that trip and I had a wonderful time! As Peace Pilgrim said, people are wonderful.
Peace Pilgrim walked for peace in the 1950’s, before it was politically correct. She never preached or confronted people; she waited for them to approach her. Her ebullient and peaceful spirit drew people to her. She was simple and humble. She was a holy person. She lived by faith and the energy of her own inner light. She was completely detached from material things.
Some have compared her to Gandhi and MLK Jr. because, like them, she had a “peaceful heart and a warrior spirit.” But unlike them, she had no organization to support her or political or religious cause to champion. She simply walked and talked about peace. She was beyond brave or courageous; she was enlightened, and those terms are meaningless when discussing a fully-realized soul.
I was led to Peace Pilgrim at the beginning of my spiritual journey. I somewhere came across a book about her. The simplicity of her message touched my heart and the glow around her lightened my spirit. I made a copy of a photograph of Peace, framed it, and I have carried it with me for nearly 15 years. For some reason, it always ends up in my kitchen. I figure food feeds the body and soul and with Peace watching over the process of putting my supper together, there surely will be love in that meal.
Below is a 1-hr video with lots of good footage of this remarkable human being. The buoyancy in her voice is uplifting. And look at the pace she is walking! This woman was serious about her mission… and about peace.
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