Peace Pilgrim walked, crisscrossing North America, from 1953 until her death in 1981, with no possessions beyond the clothes on her back and a few small items in her pockets. She carried no money. She asked for nothing. She vowed “to remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.”
I realized in 1952 that it was the proper time for a pilgrim to step forth. The war in Korea was raging and the McCarthy era was at its height. It was a time when congressional committees considered people guilty until they could prove their innocence. There was great fear at that time and it was safest to be apathetic. Yes, it was most certainly a time for a pilgrim to step forward, because a pilgrim’s job is to rouse people from apathy and make them think.
Beginning her pilgrimage when her hair was already grey, with no athletic background, no one expected her to be able to walk thousands of miles. But she did, carrying the message: “This is the way of peace– overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”
She sought out no publicity. She shared her message with those who approached her. And though she vowed to ask for no food or shelter, she said she never went hungry for more than three or four meals. She faced danger, including being beaten by a mentally ill teen, with an unwavering love and compassion that transformed her attackers.
Peace Pilgrim gained enough attention for her pilgrimage that her life and words have been documented in print and video. Her voice, in recordings at least three decades old, is luminous, embodying both a fierce clarity and an evident sense of love and delight in all she encountered. She impressed and inspired many to transform their own lives and commit to serving peace in the world. Her advice is:
We must walk according to the highest light we have, encountering lovingly those who are out of harmony, and trying to inspire them toward a better way. 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. […]
Inner peace comes through working for the good of all. We are all cells in the body of humanity– all of us, all over the world. Each one has a contribution to make, and will know from within what this contribution is, but no one can find inner peace except by working, not in a self-centered way, but for the whole human family.
Peace Pilgrim died in a car accident in 1981. She had already had a prior near-death experience that led her to refer to death as a “glorious transition”. Her words and message live on through the “Friends of Peace Pilgrim” organization which makes them available for free in 29 languages. In living in service and receptivity to the insights of her a-ha moments, she became an inspiration and catalyst for others to experience a-ha moments and become active in their own ways to serve the entire human family. This is true inspired activism.
Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects.