This is Mildred Lisette Norman Ryder
(July 18, 1908-July 7, 1981),
born on a small poultry farm
in Egg Harbor, NJ, a town about
five miles from my home.
Her father, a carpenter/contractor, and her mother, a homemaker, instilled a strong peace ethic in their children, encouraging discussion of social and political issues, and pursuit of moral questions. The family considered themselves "free-thinkers" who sought answers through reason and logic. They practiced no religion, did not belong to a church, and did not provide formal religious training to their children.
During the Great Depression, she made two important discoveries. The first was that making money is easy. The second was that making money and spending it foolishly is completely meaningless. She knew that this was not what she was here for, but at the time, she didn't know what it was she was here to do.
In 1938, after walking all night through the woods praying for guidance to discover her calling, she underwent a "great spiritual experience." Increasingly uncomfortable about having so much while others were starving, she walked and walked and walked. She described coming to a moonlit opening in the woods: "I felt a complete willingness, without any reservations, to give my life - to dedicate my life - to service... a great peace came over me... I experienced a complete willingness without reservations whatsoever, to give my life to something beyond my self."
From then on, she knew she would be living to give, not to get.
Throughout the 1940's, she worked with senior citizens and those with emotional problems, volunteered in peace organizations, stayed at the Jane Addams House and worked there for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom -- was their Washington "peace lobbyist," worked for Scott Nearing, a radical economist and staunch pacifist.
She radically simplified her life, ridding herself of unnecessary possessions and frivolous activities. She became a vegetarian, disciplined herself to live on ten dollars a week, and reduced her wardrobe to two dresses. She joined the Endurance Hiking Club, and undertook wilderness treks, to increase her physical strength and to gain experience in simple living. She said that she wanted to practice putting material things in their proper place, "realizing that they are there for use, but relinquishing them when they are not useful." She said she wanted to "experience and learn to appreciate the great freedom of simplicity."
During this time, she discovered the difference between the willingness to give of herself and the actual giving. She described this period as a time when she was engaged in a great struggle between ego and conscience; she said:
- The self-centered nature is a very formidable enemy and it struggles fiercely to retain its identity. It defends itself in a cunning manner and should not be regarded lightly. It knows the weakest spots in your armor...During these periods of attack maintain a humble stature and be intimate with none but the guiding whisper of your higher self.
Then, on January 1, 1953, at age 44, after a spiritual journey of 15 years in which she transformed herself completely, she embarked on her "calling" to be a pilgrim for peace. She adopted the name Peace Pilgrim, put on a pair of canvas shoes, donned dark blue slacks, blouse, and a tunic - on which she had sewn her new name - and set out to walk the length of the country. On that first trip, in the midst of the Korean War, the Cold War, and at the height of the McCarthy era, she walked 5,000 miles from California to New York, from coast to coast and from border to border, sharing her message of peace.
During her first pilgrimage in 1953, Peace Pilgrim carried three petitions. One of those called for the creation of a cabinet level Department of Peace in the federal government. It read:
- "This is the way of peace, overcome evil with good and falsehood with truth and hatred with love. We plead for the establishment of a Peace Department, with a Secretary of Peace who accepts these principles--and with all conflicts at home and abroad to be referred to this Peace Department."
(On September 14, 2005 a bill to create an executive branch Department of Peace was introduced by Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio with 56 co-sponsors.)
- Her message was a simple one:
overcome evil with good,
hatred with love,
falsehood with truth.
More info: http://www.peacepilgrim.org/FoPP/newsle ... l46pg2.htm