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Her long walk led to a period of concentrated inner questioning about what she, one person, could do in the cause of peace. This midlife meditation culminated in her experiencing a powerful spiritual vision, an undeniable epiphany. She came to understand that it was her destiny to be “a wanderer until mankind has learned the ways of peace.”
I then saw in my mind’s eye, myself walking along and wearing the garb of my mission…I saw a map of the United States with the large cities marked – and it was as though someone had taken a colored crayon and marked a zigzag line across, coast to coast and border to border, from Los Angeles to New York City. I knew what I was to do. I will talk to everyone who will listen to me about the way to peace. I’m even planning to wear a sign, the back of which will read, “Walking Coast to Coast for Peace” and the front, “Peace Pilgrim.”
She gave away all of her possessions — including her name — and prepared to embark upon the incredible pilgrimage that she would maintain for the rest of her life.
Step by Step…Mile by Mile…Walking…Marching…Dancing
Becoming a moving force for peace.
On the morning of January 1, 1953 at age 44, Mildred Norman Ryder adopted the name Peace Pilgrim, put on a pair of sneakers, donned dark blue slacks, blouse, and a tunic — blue being the international color for peace — and set out from Pasadena, California to walk the length of the country. She pledged to walk until she was given shelter and to fast until she was offered food.
She marched ahead of the Rose Parade where thousands of people could see her off on her way. Her tunic bore her name, Peace Pilgrim, on the front and the back was printed with her goal: 10,000 Miles for World Peace. She carried her few belongings — a comb, a toothbrush, a pen, some postal stamps and nothing else, not a penny — in its pockets.
Peace Pilgrim stepped out for peace on faith alone, and in so doing, undertook a daring and groundbreaking feat that represented enormous moral courage. On that first trip, in the midst of the Korean War, the Cold War, and at the height of the McCarthy era, she walked 5,000 miles from California to New York, from coast to coast and from border to border, sharing her message of peace.
No one walks so safely as one who walks humbly and harmlessly with great love and great faith. For such a person gets through to the good in others (and there is good in everyone), and therefore cannot be harmed. This works between individuals, it works between groups and it would work between nations if nations had the courage to try it.
She gave everyone she met a printed explanation of her walk that bore the simple message. “This is the way to peace — overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.” She rarely missed more than three meals before she was offered food. If she was not offered shelter, she slept in fields, under bridges, and on more than one occasion, in jail.
During her 28 years on the road, Queen Peace far exceeded her original mile-goal. When she passed the 25,000-mile mark, she stopped counting, but she continued to walk for 17 more years. She went through 29 pairs of sneakers, averaging 1500 miles per pair. At that rate, she walked about 43,500 miles.
By the time of her death in 1981, she had walked across the United States seven times, visited ten Canadian provinces and parts of Mexico, spreading her hopeful message of peace and inspiration to the countless thousands of folks who crossed her extraordinary path.
Peace Pilgrim is my shero. I can only pray for the wisdom and determination to follow in her footsteps.
“To attain inner peace you must actually give your life, not just your possessions. When you at last give your life — bringing into alignment your beliefs and the way you live — then, and only then, can you begin to find inner peace.”
— Peace Pilgrim
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.