On Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, I began a walk that took me from Seattle to New York City. I think this walk has changed my life forever.
walk changes life
There were many people who led the walk and kept it going. But two who come to mind are Tom Dostou and Jun San. Tom is the man who came up with the idea for the walk, a Native American activist who is constantly working for a better future. Jun San, a Nipponzan Miyohoji Buddhist nun, is the one who put the walk into action. She has been doing peace walks since the 1970s.
From this walk I learned so much! The lessons came in many different forms. One was people's responses. There were both positive and negative responses, but the positive outnumbered the negative by far. Like the woman in Lynchburg, Va., who cried and told us how she begged her pastor to let us stay in their Unity Church. She said we changed her life.
And it seemed every time something bad happened, like people yelling out their windows at us, something good would happen straight afterward, like on hot days people would stop by the road and give us cool drinks. And on cold days we would stop at a gas station to rest, and the manager would welcome us inside to get warm and buy us all hot chocolate. The people we met along the way taught me so many things. They taught me to always be thankful, have patience, never take anything for granted, and to always be caring and giving whenever you can because you never know when you'll need it in return.
This walk was not only a physical journey but a spiritual one as well. Every day we woke up really early for half an hour of interfaith prayer. Since there were people from so many different backgrounds, there were many different kinds of prayer. There was singing -- everything from rock to hymns -- chanting, soft speaking, strong speaking, instrument playing and sweet silence.
The prayer every morning and the strong beliefs of everyone around me made me realize that there definitely is something beyond this world guiding us. Every day, we had to have faith that we would have a place to stay and food to eat and people who would support us. And every day, we did.
The walk also changed my views on peace. I now know that peace doesn't always mean changing the world. It can be planting a garden or helping out a neighbor in need. It can be raising a child or even just raising a loaf of bread.
At this time we realize that we can't take peace within the United States for granted, and it's hard to see a way to have peaceful solutions for our conflicts. This walk has taught me that there is always a peaceful solution. All we have to do is look.
Annie Elfing of Kailua returned to classes at Waldorf High School in Honolulu after the Hiroshima Flame Interfaith Peace Walk was completed May 12 at Ground Zero in New York City. See www.dharmawalk.org for more on the pilgrimage.