Thursday, February 10, 2011

Channelling the Peace Pilgrim

True (as in I-could-not-make-this-up-if-I-tried) story: A couple of mornings ago, I walked out of Swork Coffee, as I have done thousands of times, carrying two cups of coffee thinking about the day ahead. Swork is on the corner of the major intersection in our town, and, just as I was exiting, a small white pickup truck careened around the corner. I noticed it distinctly because the driver leaned over, looked straight at me, shouting (what I couldn’t hear because the windows were up), and gesticulating a certain finger in my direction.

Now I have come to anticipate this kind of reaction when I am driving. I may zone out and drift over a lane, and, most unfortunately, cut off just the sort of somebody that experiences such an animated reaction when suddenly deprived of a certain length of lane. It happens.

However, I have yet to provoke this kind of response in a driver by simply walking There’s just not as many opportunities to get in the way of other drivers, so long as I manage to ambulate within the bounds of the sidewalk, as I was clearly doing. So I assumed the driver, let’s call him Joe, was just mad at the world, yelling at everybody he encountered. Imagine my surprise, then, when I turned the corner and discovered that Joe had screeched to a halt and was exiting his vehicle. He was still shouting and began charging towards me. No longer screened by the enclosure of his vehicle, I hear quite clearly what Joe is yelling ~ To Me. Not at the world, not at people, in general, but TO ME: “You are so UGLY! You are so OLD!” Over and over with surprisingly few variations on the theme. Joe had conviction and focus, I’ll give him that.

Well, my first split second reaction, was to express a disinterest in Joe’s opinion of me, perhaps contributing a few gestures of my own….and then a memory flashed through my mind, and I just stopped. I completely froze, in fact. I didn’t continue walking (or turn and run, as it occurs to me now that I might have). I didn’t speak, or even think another thought. I simply tuned into Peace. Though I didn’t hear his words anymore, I observed his behavior without judgment. He froze in his place, spewed out whatever he had left, then got in his truck and sped off.

Somehow, I unlocked my knees, got in my car, shaking and sobbing. I honestly didn’t feel hurt or angry or even relieved that I wasn’t physically harmed, but I couldn’t stop crying either. I did wonder what the heck I am putting out there to attract this particular message, but mostly I was just overcome with emotion. I managed to drive home.

What was the memory that brought me into PEACE? It was a story I’d heard about the Peace Pilgrim, a woman who, beginning on January 1, 1953, in Pasadena, California, walked across the United States in the name of Peace and non-violence for 28 years. She had no organizational backing, carried no money, and would not even ask for food or shelter. For the Peace Pilgrim, non-violence extended to all thoughts and words, not just physical behavior. She once said, “I not only do not say angry words, I do not even think angry thoughts! If someone does an unkind thing to me, I feel only compassion instead of resentment.”

I’d heard a long time ago that she was once attacked by a man carrying a knife. She made no move to defend herself, nor did she plea for her life. She simply held him in compassion and love. He left her alone.

I had always wondered if I would have the courage to do something like that. Truthfully, I don’t know if I would have had the same composure if Joe had been carrying a knife or if I hadn’t been in such a public place in broad daylight. I do feel certain that it worked. That maybe it even prevented a more violent attack for someone else down the road because Joe had vented. And because Joe had been held, in acceptance.

I do know that I am profoundly grateful to the Peace Pilgrim for inspiring me in that moment. And I’m going to be watching my thoughts and words a lot more closely, not just the words that come out of my mouth, either.  Blessed are the peacemakers.