Saturday, September 4, 2010

Peace Pilgrim's Unpublished Journal

In 1942, at the age of 34, Mildred Norman Ryder, later known as “Peace Pilgrim,” made her first entry into a small, spiral notebook:

“Running a liberal newspaper is like feeding melted butter on the end of a hot knife to an infuriated wildcat. However, almost anyone can run a band-wagon newspaper. Most of your stuff comes canned from wire services and syndicates, and you can always hire a few dull young men to wield the can openers.”

Towards the bottom of that same first page she quotes Jesus, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

At the time of these entries, Mildred was working for Scott Nearing, “a radical economist and staunch pacifist, who had been a Professor of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Mildred helped distribute his newsletter World Events.” (Marta Daniels, author of a short biography of Peace Pilgrim).

So begins this small, 32-page journal. The earliest and latest entries found in the journal are February 1942 and August 1944, a decade before Mildred Norman began her famous 28-year pilgrimage for peace. During this pilgrimage she crossed the United States on foot nearly seven times, and walked all the provinces in Canada. The writing of the journal corresponds to the time she later called her 15-year “preparation period” leading up to the pilgrimage which lasted from 1953 to 1981. This preparation period began after she had made a decision to completely give her life to service. Peace Pilgrim describes this epiphanous event in a book of her writings compiled after her death, “As I looked about the world, so much of it impoverished, I became increasingly uncomfortable about having so much while my brothers and sisters were starving. Finally I had to find another way. The turning point came when, in desperation and out of a very deep seeking for a meaningful way of life, I walked all one night through the woods. I came to a moonlit glade and prayed. I felt a complete willingness, without reservation, to give my life –to dedicate my life- to service…And a great peace came over me. I tell you it’s a point of no return." (From Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, p. 7. Because of her vow of poverty, Peace Pilgrim never wanted anything associated with her to be sold for money. You can therefore order it from the Friends of Peace Pilgrim for free here. Also you can download the entire book in pdf format at this link).

This early (and as yet) unpublished journal is approximately 6” x 8”, and was given to the late Ann Rush, a long-time friend of Peace Pilgrim’s, a founder of the first Peace Pilgrim Center, and one of the compilers of her writings. Ann received it shortly after Peace Pilgrim’s death in 1981. According to Ann, it came from Peace Pilgrim’s sister, who was living in New Jersey and who had been helping forward all of Peace Pilgrim’s correspondence to her during her pilgrimage from 1953 to 1981 (Ann Rush, personal communication).

From 1981 to 2002, the journal remained in an inconspicuous folder of miscellaneous writings of Peace’s that was filed at the Friends of Peace Pilgrim Center in Somerset, California. I found the journal in July 2002 while visiting the center. Ann, and volunteer at the Center, Kathy Miller, had given me permission to look through a series of file cabinets located in a large room in the Center’s main house. The file containing the journal was labeled "Peace's Early Writings."

The journal was written in script handwriting with a pencil. Horizontal lines were used by Mildred consistently throughout most of the journal in order to separate entries. Most entries are less than a page in length and rarely more than a couple of paragraphs. Each short entry generally focuses on a single theme addressing social and political issues relating to war and human suffering. There is a lot of writing that seems to express Mildred’s deep frustration at the hypocrisy and corruption of political leaders and of contemporary economic systems in the United States and Europe. At one point she laments the huge waste of resources on the war effort through a set of acute analogies:

"Have you stopped to think what America’s $229,000,000,000 for war means? Do you realize that it represents the spending of: $44 per second since our nation was founded, $16 per second since the discovery of America, $3.50 per second since the birth of Christ? Do you know that it could be used to build: 6,543 Golden Gate Bridges, 1,145 Grand Coulee Dams, 436 Panama Canals? Yes, and it would provide a fine house and car for every man, woman and child in the U.S.!"

The writing is passionate, highly articulate, confident, and at times sardonic. It reflects a penetrating and insightful mind, which is struggling to expose the myriad causes of human suffering. She interspersed her entries with quotations and personal thoughts of a more spiritual nature, such as "It's the not-me in thee that makes thee valuable to me" and "People do not act according to what they know, but according to how they feel about what they know."

Below is the first dated entry, which appears on the fourth page of the journal:

If you are interested in obtaining more information about this journal, please contact me.

Also, a copy of the journal has been made available to the Swarthmore College Peace Library.

~Dr. Paul Astin

(Note: My own personal path to the life and message of Peace Pilgrim is briefly recounted here).

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