Cruising home (to Hawaii) at thirty thousand feet, in between the tiny bags of pretzels and constant interruptions, I had time to reflect on my wanderings. (The book details his WALK from Paris, France to Jerusalem!) My introspection would continue long after my feet returned to their normal size. Although my journey of self-exploration felt gratifying, I hoped I’d accomplished more than finding personal peace and a communion with spirit. If anything, I hoped I was successful in sowing seeds of peace along a trail long used for war. Like a Johnny Appleseed, perhaps I’d planted a vision, while reminding folks they had non-violent options-one village, one person at a time.
Along the trail, I often imagined the possibilities if this same route were to become a pathway open to people of all cultures, faiths and nationalities to walk together; an international trail of peace. The simple act of walking together would nourish tolerance while dispelling fear, prejudice and hatred. Once people share a similar experience as intense as this one, they realize how much our hopes and fears are alike. Then again, everyday pilgrims would discover a tranquil sanctuary within, once they disconnect from an ever-more chaotic world. Returning home, more at peace and enlightened, it was only natural they would share this serenity and inspiration with families, friends and co-workers, as other peregrinos I know had done.
On the other hand, immersing yourself in other countries can be the best way to re-discover your own. I had five months of quiet, sometimes painful, sometimes inspired contemplation. Many days, I reflected on the root causes of our never-ending wars; a global imperative as we stand hip-deep in another quagmire.
Remembering back to those horrendous events of September 11th, 2001, with everyone seeking answers or revenge, we were promised the illusion of safety and freedom. All it took was war-and a pre-emptive one at that. Congress willingly complied, with few dissenting voices. The government would try not to disrupt our lives too much. As citizens, we were only asked to “keep shopping” and sacrifice a few liberties via the Orwellian-named Patriot Act-for our own security, of course.
However, war is never freedom; no more than black is ever white. The absence of war, peace, is freedom.
It’s one thing to protect our homeland against aggressors, and I’d never advocate abandoning self-defense. But our invasion of Iraq was clearly not a case of self-preservation. Saddam Hussein had no links to Al-Qaeda, as we all know by now. Instead, we were sold a polished, pre-planned confrontation for “freedom” (and oil). It was a costly fabrication whose consequences will eat away at the fabric of our nation for generations to come, just as the debacle in Vietnam has done.
In today’s world, it’s far too easy to declare war, invade, and fire missiles at faceless targets below. In one sense, we can blame the media that present us with a sanitized view of death and destruction. Once the celebratory fireworks of “shock and awe” have passed, we see nothing of its aftermath and huge civilian casualties. After the devastation is complete, we leave our children and the rest of the world an even more precarious and pernicious legacy. America deserves better.
Why is it the “Mission Accomplished” leaders of the world are often those who have never smelled the stench of gunpowder, gone deaf from the mortars’ roar, or held a bloodied buddy in their arms? Let them first taste the grotesque horror of war, the sheer repulsion, and gut-wrenching fear-before sending another mother’s naïve child to a needless, futile death on any foreign shore. America deserves better.
I feel deeply sorry for the latest brave men and women who volunteered for our country, misled into believing they were protecting our homes. I mourn with my country for those thousands who will never see their sons and daughters again. I grieve over those tens of thousands whose scarred lives, and those of their loved ones, will never be the same because of the latest grand deception. America deserves better.
If one thing, after this journey, I am certain most people of the world truly want and crave peace. If only their leaders will listen.
We can no longer continue on these paths of recklessness. The wanton destruction of nations’ infrastructures-let alone their honor-only creates poverty, despair and more people left with nothing to lose. In the name of fighting “terrorism,” we douse flames of poverty and resentment with oil. We create new generations of terrorists through our invasions, economic sanctions and wide-reaching actions. We bankrupt our own society by devoting the bulk of our national budget to the military industrial complex. At the same time, we dismantle freedoms and destroy the guiding principles on which our nation was founded.
If we are to eliminate the root cause of war and suffering, we need to assure the basic needs of our citizens at home are met, and in proxy, those of the world. As American president, general and military hero Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” Today, our country feels that loss.
As someone traveling with his home upon his back for five months, I often thought of the less fortunate in our land of plenty. In my nightly search for a place to sleep, I remembered those thirty-six million Americans living in poverty. As I worried where my next meal would come from,
I was reminded of the thirty-eight million of my countrymen who have trouble finding the money to keep food on their table-and the eighteen percent of American children who live in poverty. On my worst days, limping in pain, I sympathized with forty-five million Americans suffering because they have no health insurance to buy medicine. At those times when trucks zoomed past, throwing me into the ditch, I knew the fleeting transient nature of life and empathized with those who live day-to-day with violence. While nearly 4,000 soldiers have died in Iraq since our invasion, more than 65,000 people have been killed in America during the same four year period. While walking cold and battered in the rain, I thought of those more than 3.5 million who would experience homelessness in America this year-25% of them employed-40% of them military veterans. This is an American tragedy.
Fortunately the brave are among us, awaiting a finer destiny, waiting to feel part of a greater, more noble cause. It’s part of our nature and human heritage. It’s one altruistic reason that some enlist in the military; to make life better, I believe-not to kill in the name of democracy.
As still free, conscious citizens of the world and true patriots, let us be the first to say, “Enough!” in one voice. It is time to channel those same selfless citizen efforts into social action, instead of destruction. Devote our abundance of resources to creating better lives. Eliminate poverty. House the homeless. Protect human rights. Care for the elderly. Protect our planet. Educate and teach our children tolerance. Rebuild our highways and infrastructure. Develop energy independence. Revitalize our cities and protect them from natural disasters. And wage war against devastating diseases.
It is time to win support for democracy through our generous deeds and social progress, instead of through aggression and violence.
It is time to never allow another politician to claim that improving the welfare of our citizenry and the state of the world is beyond our budget. For when it comes to war, America’s wallet is always full-and always open. These are national values that transcend bi-partisan politics. They are the ideals that helped our forefathers build a nation from wilderness. Once we set our mind to it, surely we can wage peace just as effectively as we’ve waged war. When there is hope and progress, when people can live their dreams, the need for international confrontation will wither on the vine. War profiteers, those peddlers of death, will disappear. Peace will prevail.
After seven million small steps, in my heart I know we can each make a difference. What progressive world movement has not begun small, even if by just one person with truth and determination; pilgrims committed to walking “roads less traveled.”
We are all pilgrims, each on their own path, each with their own story to tell. Walking is only a first step, but one we each can take to discover the peace within. In that way, eventually, war will become unconscionable. Darkness will be dispelled with light-one person, one step at a time.