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Meet The Peace Pilgrim

Damayanti Chandrasekhar

Peace Pilgrim - A Lifetime Dedicated To Peace

By Damayanti Chandrasekhar

     In a world rampant with wars, genocide and terrorism many have forgotten the way of peace. We seem content with attacking terrorists, fighting injustices and waging wars, all supposedly in the name of peace. But if we stop and think, it will dawn on us that violence cannot be the means to attain peace. Violence only perpetrates more of the same. Peace can only be sustained through peaceful thoughts, words and actions. Today, peace is needed more than ever and unless we summon it and work toward it with all our strength, the human race may well annihilate itself. And if you’re thinking - what can ‘I’ do for peace, ‘I’ am but one person - this story is for you.

   In 1953, during the Korean War and McCarthy era, one woman dedicated her life to peace. She called herself the Peace Pilgrim and walked across the length and breadth of America, talking to people and inspiring them to live a life of peace. She carried nothing and owned nothing but the clothes on her back and depended on the generosity of the people she met, for food and a place to rest.  Her message was simple. To all who cared to stop and listen she would share these words: This is the way of peace--overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

 She walked 25,000 miles for peace, averaging nearly 25 miles a day (no mean feat!) and then stopped counting. Within a span of nearly 3 decades she completed 7 pilgrimages across America. She collected signatures for a petition to end the Korean War and also one addressed to the United Nations to urge the nations of the world to drop their arms and come together for a new era of prosperity. A third petition addressed the need for a national peace department.

  In the book “Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words”   she says, “My mission is to help promote peace by helping others to find inner peace. If I can find it, you can too. Peace is an idea whose time has come.”  Peace felt that if enough of us find inner peace then world peace can be sustained.

   Peace Pilgrim was born Mildred Norman in a poor family in New Jersey. She lived a normal life, went to school, got a job, got married etc. She had all the material things normal people fill their lives with- an apartment, a car and lots of beautiful clothes and shoes. But when her husband wanted to join the World War II, Mildred protested and refused to go with him. Their marriage which was already going downhill ultimately dissolved. It is in those years that she searched for meaning in her life. She had no religious background but was fascinated by the Golden Rule which she used in the context of peace - “if you want to make peace, you must be peaceful.”

     Like the Mahatma, she was struck by the pitiable conditions of people who were not so well off. So she simplified her life and got rid of all unnecessary belongings. At that time, her wardrobe was down to 2 dresses and she was living on $10 a week. Peace Pilgrim explains in her book, "I was determined to live at the need level, that is, I didn't want more than I need when so many have less than they need."  

     Her message was a serious one and so was her pilgrimage. She did not accept rides except to speaking engagements (which were generously sprinkled all through her pilgrimage). She did not accept money, nor was any money collected in her name. Peace Pilgrim however was a person full of joy, very friendly and easily approachable. So much so that when she was arrested for vagrancy she waltzed into her cell with a smile on her face. She endured raging winds and blizzards in the course of her pilgrimages but never faltered. She traveled South in the winter and North in the summer, ate wild berries, bathed in rivers and slept under the stars. She walked on faith with a swing in her step, never fearing for what was to be. She truly believed that there is good in everyone and if you look for it you will find it. The fact that she never went hungry for more than a day, confirms her belief in the good nature of human beings.

   That she walked on divine energy is obvious and she was definitely an enlightened soul, for she saw the oneness in all humans, all religions and all living things. And most of all she proved that one person can make a difference to the world. In her words, “whenever you bring harmony into any unpeaceful situation, you contribute to the cause of peace. When you do something for world peace, peace among groups, peace among individuals, or your own inner peace, you improve the total peace picture.” Her pilgrimage roused people from their apathy and stupor and made them activists for peace in their community.

   After her passing away in 1981, some of her friends compiled the book “Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words. “Steps Toward Inner Peace” was a booklet Peace handed out to people she met. Now her friends continue to spread her message of peace. They send out booklets and books for free to people who ask. The “Steps Toward Inner Peace” has brought peace to several cell inmates and changed their life for the better. This book has been translated into 13 languages. The site www.peacepilgrim.com has the complete book and booklet as well as audio and video clips of Peace Pilgrim. She was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

    So there you go, if one person could do so much for peace, imagine what every one of you who is reading this can do. I urge you to bring peace to at least one situation in your life, to face every challenging situation or person with peace and love. No matter what the world situation now, deep inside, you and I know it – peace will prevail!

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