See my previous post about Peace Pilgrim, dated April 21, 2014. Peace Pilgrim’s life (1908 – 1981) is documented in several books and a decent Wikipedia entry.
Two or three years ago, a group of peace activists got involved in an effort to put Peace Pilgrim into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, posthumously.
Why not? It’s a platform, and a way to promote interest in Peace Pilgrim’s life and (much more importantly) her message of peace and personal responsibility. The first time Peace Pilgrim was nominated, she didn’t get enough votes. But in 2016, she was selected! (I think I voted both times.)
To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of Peace Pilgrim’s life was that she maintained two identities, and kept them separated for about thirty years. On the road, she was Peace Pilgrim, and refused to offer any other name or personal history. She wanted the emphasis to be on her message, not her “self”. Over time, Peace Pilgrim developed a mystique and unarguable dignity. How many people could keep this up for decades?
Those who, after her death, undertook to preserve her memory respected her wishes, and the dual structure created during her life was preserved after her death. Nothing linked Peace Pilgrim to Mildred Lisette Norman of Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, until a local movement emerged in the 1990’s opened the door. IMHO, the time was right.
It wouldn’t work in the year 2017, in the age of instantaneous communication via social media. America’s only “wandering holy woman” would have been picked apart by gossip and criticism. I’m glad this didn’t happen.
For the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Peace Pilgrim was represented by her sister, Helene Young, now age 102. Helene is my neighbor. At age 100, she was still out on the road bicycling almost daily, despite being legally blind. The years have now caught up with her, physically. Her mobility is limited. Mentally, she seems little changed, and is very good company.
I worried about the rigors of the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, but Helene’s family and friends smoothed the way. She had to arrive in Asbury Park hours before the event, submit not just to getting dressed up but to wearing MAKE UP, and be available to the press. She wisely agreed to use a wheelchair, but walked across the stage to the podium with a little help. Seeing her at a distance, under harsh stage lighting, I was shocked by her aged appearance, but when she spoke, her voice was clear, strong and distinctive. What fortitude! I was delighted to be present as her friend and supporter. Yes, she went home tired. But I visited a few days later and found her largely recovered, and happy to chat.
What on earth would Peace Pilgrim think of the New Jersey Hall of Fame?! In many ways, it seems so totally contrary to the peace and simplicity she advocated. But life is complicated…so I am willing to accept the argument that she would have utilized almost any forum where she could deliver her urgent message:
“Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”
Each of us can find a different path towards this goal. We can all appreciate and celebrate the beauty of Peace Pilgrim’s life.