Why start my walk on July 7 and why not any other day of the year?
And why begin from the Hebridean islands of Erraid and Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, walk eastwards towards Findhorn as the first major stop?
To answer the second question first, Iona has been a celebrated place of pilgrimage for centuries while neighbouring Erraid is administered by the Findhorn Foundation and has provided me with one of my most vivid and intimate experiences of community life. And Findhorn itself has become a spiritual home and is the place where I first felt inspired to become a pilgrim walking with a message about treading lightly upon the Earth.
The date honours the memory and example of Peace Pilgrim whose amazing life has been a major source of wonder and inspiration.
Known simply as ‘Peace Pilgrim,’ she was a remarkable silver-haired woman who walked tirelessly for 28 years throughout the United States and Canada on a personal pilgrimage for peace, vowing to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.”
A pilgrim’s job is to rouse people from apathy and to make them think, she said, insisting: “Love is the greatest power on Earth. It conquers all things.”
Penniless and walking her talk without any organisational backing, she touched the hearts and lives of countless thousands who were inspired by her message of achieving peace between nations, individuals and that all important inner peace that is the vital starting point.
Thirty years ago – on July 7 – she died instantly in a car accident while being driven to a talk she was to give. She was 72 and had described death as “a beautiful liberation into a freer life.”
In her ceaseless wanderings she became a major force for good whose life as a peace activist, pacifist and vegetarian personified faith, commitment and simplicity; her only possessions being those she carried in the pockets sewn into her tunic.
“Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens,” she said. “If you have them, you have to take care of them. There is great freedom in simplicity of living.”
So with each step I take on July 7 I’ll honour her memory and a few days later there will be another cause for celebration: July 18 has been declared Nelson Mandela Day by the United Nations.
It’s Madiba’s 93rd birthday and a day that really matters to me and most South Africans when we remind ourselves of what a precious gift he is to us all.
I fondly remember celebrating his 90th birthday by arranging for extreme athletes and friends David Grier and Braam Malherbe to run a combined 90km around Robben Island, starting from the tiny cell where he was cruelly imprisoned for so many years.
In a live BBC radio interview, while sitting on a blanket on the hard, cold floor of his cage, I spoke of my great love and admiration for this world icon and symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation. The interviewer had hoped for some criticism to offset all the praise but he was talking to the wrong person. How could anybody not love this great man?
The appeal on July 18 is for each of us to do whatever we can to make the world a better place, one small step at a time, just as he did. His long walk to freedom took 27 years and according to his reckoning he has devoted at least 67 years to serving his community, country and the world. We’re invited to devote 67 minutes to worthy actions and there are many ‘how to’ suggestions on his website along with a taped message.
“The world remains beset by so much human suffering, poverty and deprivation,” he says, noting: “It is in your hands to make our world a better one for all. It is in your hands to make a difference.”
Let’s heed the call and celebrate a life truly lived.