Monday, July 19, 2010

Peace Pilgrim, Visited

Back on February 27, I wrote about how Pete suggested I write a new verse to my song, "Peace Pilgrim." He also really, really liked the song, and asked me to sing it every time we were at the peace vigil together, and also every first Friday at the song circle at the Beacon Sloop Club. He tweaked it in another way, suggesting that I drop the second "She said" from the chorus. Others agreed, and I do too, so I now sing it differently from the way it's sung on the recording, but that's the folk process!

Pete's enthusiasm and support gave me the courage to send the song to the Peace Pilgrim web site, where there are already a few songs about her. I was so gratified to receive a handwritten letter from the web master, thanking me for the song and inviting me to perform it at the third annual celebration of Peace Pilgrim's birthday, July 16-18. There was to be a concert on Friday evening, a peace walk, educational program and picnic on Saturday, and an interfaith service on Sunday morning.

This will be a long post, because so much happened that weekend and it was all so magical. I met Bruce Nichols, web master and Board member of Friends of Peace Pilgrim, and we carpooled down to Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, Peace Pilgrim's birthplace. We stayed at the home of Peace's sister, Helene Young, who at 95 lives up to her name. She still rides her bike every day, and she has every one of her marbles; more than I can say for myself! She loved to reminisce about Peace and their lives as children, how for the 28 years that Peace was walking, Helene picked up her mail at the little post office just down the road (it's still there), how after Peace died and the letters came pouring in from people whose lives she'd touched and changed forever, she decided to continue Peace's work by speaking about her.

Helene's home, where she has lived for 60 years, is a lovely little ranch on a main highway in this South Jersey community, with a large backyard including a small grove of trees, where Bruce hung his hammock, and a fenced-in garden, where she grows all sorts of vegetables and some flowers too. Besides Bruce and myself, she hosted Mayte (pronounced MY-teh) Picco-Kline, another Board member, and Maurice Hoover, a volunteer from Oklahoma City. If you order Peace Pilgrim pamphlets, books, or DVDs, it's his crew that generally packs them up and ships them to you. In a front parlor there was a huge scrapbook that Helene's husband, who died a few years ago, put together about Peace Pilgrim, with photos, newspaper clippings, letters, and all sorts of memorabilia. There are peace signs everywhere, as well as pictures and statues of cats -- my two favorite things!

Friday evening was the concert. I opened for the featured performer with four songs: Malvina Reynolds' "Sing Along;" my own "Peace Pilgrim;" a new one about the peace vigil where Pete and I jam, called "The Foot of the South Hills Mall," that will find its way to my MySpace page eventually; and "We Will Survive." The featured performer was Pamela Whitman, an amazing flute player who played world music on an array of flutes, spoke of Gandhi and Martin Luther King and just gave a magical performance.

Next morning we assembled at Peace Pilgrim Park for a one-mile walk from the park to the house where Peace Pilgrim was born. The park is a most appropriate tribute to Peace Pilgrim, with a statue of her surrounded by tiles made by the schoolchildren of the town, an herb garden in the shape of a peace sign, and a grove of trees with small signs for each of her "steps toward inner peace" written on them. At the house, Helene told us about Peace Pilgrim's early life and took questions. Then we planted a Peace Pilgrim pole. This looks something like your standard Peace Pole, except that instead of the words "May Peace Prevail on Earth" in different languages, it has Peace's words: "This is the way to peace: overcome evil with good, overcome falsehood with truth, overcome hatred with love." From there we walked back to the City Hall, just beside the park, for an educational program about Peace Pilgrim presented by Mayte.

After a nap, which we all needed after the walk in the heat, we returned to the park for a picnic. But just before the picnic, we were all invited to join in a commitment ceremony for a man and woman who had met planning the first Peace Pilgrim celebration two years ago. When it was my turn to sing, I opened with "Give Yourself to Love," dedicated to this lovely couple who were dressed in tie-dyed t-shirts and bellbottoms with peace signs. I then led a singalong of peace and justice songs. The featured band were faculty from nearby Stockton College, and they were great! Later on there was a drumming circle. Reflecting on the afternoon, I realized, "If this little town, with its variety of political opinions, can gather together peacefully and joyfully for this one day, perhaps someday the whole world will learn to live like this -- maybe not all the time, but most of it."

Helene took a group of us to see Peace Pilgrim's gravesite. It's near the graves of her three maiden aunts who lived with the family and helped to raise her and her sister. Someone had made peace signs out of pine cones with a big heart shaped out of pine cones in front of the stone.

Sunday morning was a service at the local Unitarian Universalist church. It had been organized jointly by the UUs and the Quakers. I sang three songs, Bruce gave an uplifting sermon, and there was a Quaker meeting-style silence, as well as singing and readings. After lunch at Helene's the weekend was over and Bruce and I drove home, listening on the way to Pamela Whitman's glorious CD.

I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this weekend. I met so many wonderful people, learned so much more about Peace Pilgrim, and got an extra little "boost" along my spiritual journey. I recommend anyone who can, to come to this festival next year.