Last week I began reading Rebecca Solnit’s novel, Wanderlust, which is about the history of walking. The novel is filled with information and stories about the act of walking and its purpose and place within humanity. Although considered a basic human activity, it is profound in its simplicity. Among many other fantastic discoveries I encountered in my first few chapters of reading, I learned about The Peace Pilgrim. Fascinated by Solnit’s quick description of a woman who dedicated her life to the spreading of peace through walking 25,000 miles, I decided to dig deeper and find more information about her and her mission.
The Peace Pilgrim was an American woman who lived from 1908-1981. She grew up on a farm in New Jersey and lived a fairly normal life until age 30 when she decided to slowly transition to an increasingly minimal way of living. In this 15-year transition, she dedicated her life to service. In the year prior to beginning her 25,000-mile walk for peace, she completed the Appalachian Trail. By hiking the length of the trail in 1952, she became the first woman to finish the trail in one season. During this hike, she felt inspired to continue walking and become “Peace Pilgrim.”
At age 45, she gave up all that remained of her material possessions and begin walking every day to spread peace. She made a vow as she began her journey on January 1, 1953, stating, “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace; walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.” In addition to this vow, she gave up her given name and introduced herself as “Peace Pilgrim” to anyone she met along her journey. With her, she carried a toothbrush, comb, and a few notes to share about her pilgrimage. She didn’t have any money with her, relying on the generosity of others to share food and shelter. According to Peace Pilgrim, when asked about how she went about receiving food and shelter she said, "I don't even ask; it's given without asking. I tell you, people are good. There's a spark of good in everybody."
She completed the original 25,000 miles of her goal in 1964, but she didn’t stop walking. She was fully dedicated to her mission and felt a deep sense of purpose in the life she’d acquired. After finishing the 25,000 miles she stopped counting her mileage but continued walking for another 17 years. In the years of her pilgrimage, she walked in all 50 states of the United States, in every Canadian province, and in parts of Mexico.
On a website dedicated to her life and mission, you can access a book that her friends have created through a compilation of her words. It’s available through SoundCloud audio or downloadable as a PDF. The organization also sends free hard copies of her book for anyone who requests it--anywhere in the world!
With a quick google search of Peace Pilgrim quotes, I was given:
When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others.
If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.
Pure love is a willingness to give without a thought of receiving anything in return.
This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.
The way of peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It conquers all things.
We are all cells in the same body of humanity.
No one can find inner peace except by working, not in a self- centered way, but for the whole human family.
One little person, giving all of her time to peace, makes news. Many people, giving some of their time, can make history.
Worry is a useless mulling over of things we cannot change.
Now, how’s that for a profound series of inspirational quotes to start off your week?
Learning about Peace Pilgrim has made me think about the ways in which walking is part of my life. I walk on a daily basis to and from school. I often go on short walks throughout the day, pestering my peers to come along--walking is a wonderful thing to share. The most significant walk I’ve shared was just under two years ago when I hiked a section of the Pacific Crest Trail with my dear friend, Jordie. We walked about 18 miles a day for a little under 3 weeks. I would have loved to have stayed longer on the trail, but am forever grateful for the time we had together and the individuals we met along the way.
The physical ability to walk is a sheer blessing. How does walking fit into your daily life? What was the most meaningful walk you’ve ever taken?
Beyond the physical activity, the dedication of Peace Pilgrim’s life to service is even more notable. Living with this intention does not have to mean giving up all that you have, know, and do. It can take many forms. If we all lived more service-oriented lives, the world would be a much happier place. I encourage you to consider ways you can be of service to others this week. Peace Pilgrim said, "I began to really live life when I began to look at every situation and think about how I could be of service in that situation.” So, open a few doors, pick up a few pieces of litter, lend a hand whenever you see an opportunity.
In light of honoring Peace Pilgrim, I’d like to end this post by sharing the song “People are Good” by the Hoodie Monks who were inspired to write this piece through Peace Pilgrim’s Steps Toward Inner Peace. Have a wonderful week, my friends, and find that spark of goodness that lies within you.