Thursday, December 20, 2012

From Where I've Been

To journey without being changed
is to be a nomad.
To change without journeying
is to be a chameleon.
To journey and to be transformed by the journey
is to be a pilgrim.
~Mark Nepo

Photo courtesy of Lori Kennedy © 2012.

I read this story once about a woman who called herself “Peace Pilgrim.”  In 1952 she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season.  Shortly after that she began her walk for peace, vowing to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.”  For almost three decades she walked back and forth across the United States, with no money and only the clothes on her back, walking more than 25,000 miles before her death.  She was always fascinated that her needs were met.  “Aren’t people good,” she would say.[1]

She spoke to anyone who would listen about the big peace picture:  peace among nations, peace among groups, and that all too elusive inner peace because she believed that was where peace began.  In the course of her pilgrimage she touched the lives of thousands of people with her message, and many of them inspired her as well. 

I love the story she told about a small, remote village she visited where she found a group of people with a unique way of dealing with conflict.  When a person in the village violated the natural laws or had intense conflict with another, the locals would gather in the town center, form a circle around the offender, and one by one they would recount every good deed, act of kindness and contribution to the community made by that person.  There was no punishment or finger pointing or harsh judgment, only kindness.  And as a result, their community thrived without the need for jails or local police.  Generally, they had very little conflict among them.  

Innovative conflict resolution aside, when I think about the devotion that allowed Peace Pilgrim to live this mission I am overwhelmed by the truth that I have never been so dedicated to any one thing in my life.  Sure, I’ve been interested in things and fascinated by people and places.  I’ve championed a few causes.  I’ve dabbled in this creative endeavor and that; I’ve explored this career path, then that; but never have I devoted myself to any one person or purpose to the exclusion of all others.   In a way, I’ve had one foot out the door; one eye cocked in search of the next great thing, certain that I would miss “it” if I settled on just one.

A curious realization as I prepare to join my beloved at our ceremonial alter this New Year’s Eve and make the single-most significant declaration of love and commitment so far in my lifetime. As I contemplate the vows we will be taking—the vows I will be making on our wedding night—among the most important, I think, will be my vow of happiness, not just for that day or in the weeks and years that follow when the fire of romance burns hot and bright, but everyday no matter the weather.  In so doing, I also choose myself. 

Not that I have been unhappy by nature; to the contrary. Yet I, as you, sometimes feel isolated and unsure even when surrounded by love and beauty, waiting for things to be just so.  But in waiting, I find, my attention to happiness slips and my experience of life and connections with people become obscured.

So as I move from where I’ve been, walking towards a new year, a new chapter, and a whole new life with my sweetheart by my side, I begin this pilgrimage of happiness.  I will not wait for some future moment for all to be right in the world—for countries to quit fighting, for financial markets to stabilize, for the environment to be protected, for everyone to act right and do right and play nice--or for the pieces of my puzzle to fit perfectly in place. From this moment forward I am a pilgrim for the cause, and I will choose those life-affirming friendships and experiences that support my journey to move beyond the pettiness that breeds discontent and that tendency that we all share to change or hide the truth of our hearts so that we may please others or avoid pain.  

In this I honor that sacred place: the deep well of happiness within, always present and waiting to be rediscovered.  

Isn’t that why we’re here?

As we inch closer to 2013, I wish you all safe journeys and a very HAPPY New Year!

[1]  Peace Pilgrim:  Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, © 1992; published by Ocean Tree Books.