JULY & AUGUST The entire planet is heating up right now. Global warming is playing havoc with weather patterns, which in turn affects all plant and animal life. Our emotions are fired up and disagreements are reaching a boiling point, as is evidenced by the ever-increasing and escalating geo-religious-political-economic conflicts around the globe. Time out! […]
JULY & AUGUST
The entire planet is heating up right now. Global warming is playing havoc with weather patterns, which in turn affects all plant and animal life. Our emotions are fired up and disagreements are reaching a boiling point, as is evidenced by the ever-increasing and escalating geo-religious-political-economic conflicts around the globe.
Now is the time to turn our attention to positive solutions and focus our thoughts and actions creating peace. Peace of Mind. Peace of Heart. Peace on Earth. There is a chance for peace.
Peace Pilgrim devoted almost 30 years of her life to walking and talking for peace. Born Mildred Lisette Norman in 1908 on a small poultry farm in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey. She was the oldest of three children in a loving, close-knit, extended family of nine.
The Norman ancestors had fled Germany for America in the mid-19th century to escape conflict and militarism. Her parents instilled a strong peace ethic in their children, encouraging discussion of social and political issues, and pursuit of moral questions. The family considered themselves “free-thinkers” who sought answers through reason and logic.
After her high school graduation, Mildred Norman took secretarial jobs. As a young adult, she led an active social life and at the age of 25 she eloped with Stanley Ryder, a businessman. They were very mismatched and the marriage was fractious from the start. Stanley wanted a traditional domestic life and children; Mildred did not. He liked to drink, Mildred did not. Stanley believed in war, Mildred did not. With each passing year, the couple grew further apart.
Ironically, during the Great Depression Mildred learned that making money was easy, and that spending it foolishly was completely meaningless. She knew that this was not her destiny, but did not know what was.
She did know, however, that she was dissatisfied with her life. She was increasingly uncomfortable about having so much while others were starving. In 1938 she spent an entire night walking through the woods praying for guidance to discover her calling, and she underwent a profound spiritual experience awakening,
I felt a complete willingness, without any reservations, to give my life – to dedicate my life – to service. “If you can use me for anything, please use me!” I prayed to God. “Here I am-take all of me; use me as you will. I withhold nothing.” Then a great peace came over me. I experienced a complete willingness without reservations whatsoever, to give my life to something beyond my self.
Thus began a 15-year period of intense inner transformation. She said, “I tell you it’s a point of no return. After that, you can never go back to completely self-centered living.”
For the entire decade of the 1940s, Mildred searched diligently for the service that she felt she was called to undertake. First she worked with senior citizens and those with emotional problems. Then she volunteered for peace organizations: the Quaker American Friends Service Committee, the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission and the United Nations Council of Philadelphia and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
As she entered her midlife, Mildred began to radically simplify her life. She decided to get rid of unnecessary possessions and frivolous activities. She dissolved her unhappy marriage. She became a vegetarian, disciplined herself to live on ten dollars a week, and pared down her wardrobe to two dresses. Her goal was to “experience and learn to appreciate the great freedom of simplicity.”
She described this period as a time when she was engaged in a great struggle between ego and conscience, or between her “lower, self-centered nature,” and the “higher, God-centered nature.” She strived to overcome selfishness in order to attain inner peace and spiritual maturity.
Mildred joined the Endurance Hiking Club and took wilderness treks to increase her physical strength and to gain experience in simple living. In 1952 she became to the first woman to walk the entire 2,050-mile length of the Appalachian Trail in one season.
Life on the trail agreed with her. Hiking reinforced her belief in simplicity and confirmed her ability to live “in harmony at need level” for long periods of time, in all weather conditions. She managed to live outdoors for five months equipped with only a pair of slacks, one shirt one sweater, a blanket and two plastic sheets.
Her menu, morning and evening, was two cups of uncooked oatmeal soaked in water and flavored with brown sugar; at noon, she had two cups of double strength dried milk, plus any berries, nuts or greens that she found in the woods.
Her experience convinced her that material possessions were simply a burden, and that to achieve a daily state of grace, she would need to maintain that simplicity after she got off the trail.
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.