Last night I read a novel by a distinguished prizewinning writer. I polished it off in a few hours, turned over and went to sleep.
This morning I awoke thinking how depressing it was… not one man or woman who was inspirational, kind, or good – everyone ambivalent and self-absorbed. And then I remembered one peripheral historical character, whose real life contribution to the care of the wounded in World War One is one of the more fascinating true stories of that time. He was a man of integrity, compassion and genuine goodness.
And as I thought about him, I could feel my whole body relaxing, and a smile on my face. I thought to myself how much I love reading about goodness.
I thought about Mildred Norman, the Peace Pilgrim, that amazing woman who for twenty-eight years walked the length and breadth of the States seven times. She carried nothing but a few items in the pockets of her jerkin which was emblazoned with the words Peace Pilgrim. From 1953 to 1981 when she was killed in a car crash, she walked to remind people of peace.
She walked through the Korean War, all through the Vietnam War, and on through all the other conflicts, until the day she died. She had no means of sustenance, she ate when she was given food, and slept wherever she was, and usually people recognised her goodness and gave her a bed…” walking until given shelter, fasting until given food”. When she reached 25,000 miles in 1964, she gave up counting.
Wherever she went she talked of peace, saying: “We who work for peace must not falter. We must continue to pray for peace and to act for peace in whatever way we can, we must continue to speak for peace and to live the way of peace; to inspire others, we must continue to think of peace and to know that peace is possible.”
Ironically she was killed in a car crash while being taken to speak to a meeting. But her disciples carry on her message. She was seventy -one, a gentle, silver- haired blue-eyed woman with a tanned complexion.
Then there was Don Ritchie, ‘The Angel of the Gap’. I can’t read about this beautiful man without tears blurring my eyes. He retired as a salesman, bought a house with a marvellous view of the ocean just outside Sydney, which also overlooked a famous suicide spot. He spent the rest of his life looking out of the window at that famous view. Not to enjoy the view, but – “for a far greater purpose,” as one obituary put it – to rescue those who came to end their lives.
As soon as he saw someone lingering there, he walked across to them smiling, with his hands out, palms up (what a beautiful, instinctive gesture of peace and non-violence). “Is there something I can do to help you?” he asked. He talked to them until they were ready to pick up their shoes and their wallet and their note, and to come back to his house where his wife had a cup of tea waiting for them.
Sometimes he risked his life struggling with those who were determined to jump. The official count of the lives he saved is 164, but those who knew him believe the figure to be nearer 500. Bottles of champagne and cards arrived for him for years after from those whose lives he’d saved.
He used to say: “never under-estimate the power of a kind word and a smile”. He died last year at eighty-six, proof that no-one needs special training to serve their world, that love makes a difference, that great goodness is to be found in ‘ordinary’ people ( if indeed they are ordinary) as well as in spiritual mentors…
And then there are some of the bloggers whose posts I never miss… not witty or intellectual or spiritual, but filled with a sweetness and a simple goodness that lights up my day… they make me think of that haunting little Shaker hymn ‘Simple Gifts’… because their goodness is a gift, and it’s a simple uncomplicated sort of goodness, spontaneous and undemanding. Reading these gentle blogs about ordinary events and everyday lives filled with weather and animals and growing things is like smelling a flower.
But unless one is a Pollyanna, I have a shadow to face too – cyber-bullying. It’s hard to remember that we are all one, when encountering words and actions of destructive malice, and this is when the words of the sages like the Peace Pilgrim help me keep my balance. It’s then that I try to be thankful for this shadow, because it shows me that there must be some place in me where I don’t love myself as my neighbour, and so some inner work to do. And it’s that test of one’s character and integrity to be unmoved by such psychic attacks.
Miguel Ruiz’s words carry me through these moments that could unbalance me. His second agreement reads: “Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others do and say is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others you won’t be the victim of needless suffering”.
These words of wisdom are what can keep me on the path of peace… because though the Peace Pilgrim talked about world peace, and the end of war, the wars won’t end until our own lives are at peace and ‘peace is every step’, in the words of Thich Nhat Hahn… Peace to us all.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
Summer means lots of tomatoes, and I often use them the way I remember from living in Vienne, Central France as a child. I remember huge – probably- beefsteak tomatoes, with their middles cut out, and filled with thick golden mayonnaise. If I do them today, one each is enough for us, for a light lunch, served with some crusty rolls. If I do them as a starter, I use smaller tomatoes, and surround them with glorious sweet smelling basil. I serve them on green plates, and they look gorgeous.
The mayonnaise is the usual. Using a stick beater, in the beaker break one whole egg – both yolk and white – plus salt, pepper, a good slurp of white wine vinegar or lemon juice and a good teasp of mixed mustard. Pour in some grape oil or other gentle tasting oil but Not olive oil, to just under halfway up the height of the beaker, and then press the button! Whizz, whizz, and mayonnaise is ready! This process spoils the taste of the olive oil – hence the need for alternatives.
Food for Thought
The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is happening outside. And only she who listens can speak.
From ‘Markings’ by Dag Hammarskjold, second UN Secretary General. 1905 – 1961 Diplomat, and writer, son of a Swedish Prime Minister, descendant of generations who had served the Swedish crown and people since the 17th century. A spiritual man, during his time at the UN he organised and supervised every detail of a meditation room there. His plane crashed in suspicious circumstances on a peace mission in Africa. He’s the only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously.
I’m learning to take pictures, but haven’t got the hang of captions yet! This is the crepuscule rose in my garden