How does one go about bringing about peace in the world? Derek and Carolyn, the feet behind the Peace Walker Society, believe that the way begins with the open road. Derek has made over 25,000 km of pilgrimage all over the world to follow a dream of walking to Japan. Along the way, he was accompanied, at times, by a group of 500 co-pilgrims, by a farting German, by a pony named Mary, and, most often, by countless hours of his own thoughts and stories, the inner manifestation of the metronomic pace of his breathing and footsteps. In the past few years, Carolyn joined him on his pilgrimage, and together they eventually reached Japan. I stayed with them on the first two nights of my journey – hopefully, an auspicious beginning to my own quest.
I couldn’t help but ask Derek about the success of his mission: here, 25,000 km later, the world is still plagued by war, by non-peace, by all sorts of daunting existential threats. What good, I wondered, did all of that walking actually do? He answered quickly and thoughtfully, discussing the options to consider when faced with a challenge that affects ourselves and others: addressing the problem, ignoring the problem, finding a way in our lives to do something, anything, to move towards the light. ”If things get worse,” he said, ”at least I can look at my grandchildren and say that I tried.”
It’s true what he said, of course, but there is a certain hopeless to it all; a recognition of the complexity of life as one becomes fully aware of one’s humility, one’s smallness, in the face of all of the challenges of the thing. His question is less a question of peace than a question of existence: with all that we have, with our talents and our opportunities and our education and our responsibilities, what meaningful things can we do to fill our time?
Sitting across the table from one another, I felt a shared longing: two pilgrims identifying with the spirit in one another that represents what we were and what we once might be. Maybe the answer is walking for peace, setting off on long journeys in search of wisdom, change, and inspiration. Or maybe it’s just being peace: understanding oneself instead of trying to transcend self; living life with compassion and dedication; crying all the way down and laughing all the way up; loving with bravery and openheartedness. It doesn’t take a long walk to figure that out, of course, but it’s a nice place from which to start.