This time of year usually brings to mind pictures of pumpkins, horns of plenty, and pilgrims. We are asked to be grateful, to give thanks, and to invest large amounts of time and effort to create savory foods we may only eat once a year. There can be great comfort in the predictability of the ritual. Some might call it downright peaceful. But I’ve never been able to get the image of an uptight, over-starched, black and white donned pilgrim to meld with openness, serenity, and thanks. That is, until I heard about Mildred Norman Ryder aka “Peace Pilgrim.”
At the age of 44 and for the next 28 years, Mildred Ryder walked over 25,000 miles under the adopted name Peace Pilgrim and proved that walking for an idea was much more powerful than walking to a destination. In her own words, Mildred defined a pilgrim as “a wanderer with a purpose.” She walked donning canvas shoes, blue slacks, and a blue tunic with white lettering spelling out “Peace Pilgrim.” She was a small woman, a diminutive 5’2”, hair turning from brunette to white over the years. She was more than the “little old lady in tennis shoes,” she was a woman with a life’s purpose. A member of the Endurance Hiking Club, she used the transformative power of nature as she searched for her place in the world. In 1952 she was the first woman to hike the entire 2,050 mile length of the Appalachian trail in one season. By the age of 72 it is estimated Peace Pilgrim walked over 45,000 miles spreading her message of peace, disarmament, and kindness.
As Peace Pilgrim was walking, the symbol that has become an icon of peace in my generation was also created. I had always thought it was a symbol that represented the roots of the tree of life enmeshed in a perpetual circle, but what many refer to in less elegant language as “chicken tracks within a circle” was created first in 1958 by a British designer in Europe based on the hand flag signals for the letters “N” and “D” for nuclear disarmament. It became the symbol for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and was quickly adopted worldwide as an international sign long before the creation of social media platforms and email. The impact of word of mouth and social movements was seminal to generations of people who believed in love, peace, and a world without war.
Last week, my daughter had her 14th birthday party complete with peace pendants, tie-dyed t-shirts, a game of Twister, and rose colored glasses. I thought to myself whether the idea of peace had become merely an icon from another decade or whether this generation would find the type of passion and commitment as they moved forward as others before them had. It brought to mind that adopting a passion should not earn one the sneer and label of “overachiever,” or “hippie” or even “fanatic.” Instead we should cheer them on to continue to aspire, inspire, and fight the mediocrity and apathy that is threatening to be the icon of today. Peace Pilgrim documented her thoughts along her various journeys and published the pamphlet Steps Toward Inner Peace which has been distributed around the world and used as a teaching doctrine at the United Nations and universities.
So pick a path, make a commitment, and start walking. You’ll be surprised where your feet might take you.
“This is the way of peace--overcome evil with good,
and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.” Peace Pilgrim
You can learn more about Peace Pilgrim at http://www.peacepilgrim.org