SCENES FROM A PEACE WALK
Ken Peace Carroll - Colorado Springs Spiritually Examiner
Question from: Karen Giles, PA
Looking back on the 3,300 mile peace walk from San Diego to the United Nations in New York, I would be hard-pressed to pick one event being more memorable than another. They were all very special as were all the beautiful people that I met along the way. I think my greatest lesson was realizing how much more I can love now as a result of the challenging experiences I had along this amazing journey. It showed me who I really am, and what shines beneath the masks and labels we all wear.
The year was 2003 and the public sentiment was for an all out war on terrorism and bellicose search and recovery for weapons of mass destruction that resulted in America being the aggressor on foreign soil. Clergymen and politicians were shaking their fists in the air calling for retaliation for the events of 9-11. Peace activism was considered to be unpatriotic and even terroristic. As a minister, I had to ask myself what can I do to bring the focus away from fear and hatred towards love and peace. In addition, my son, Joshua, was turning 18 and eligible for military service in what I believed to be a war for profit. Conducting a peace walk to bring awareness to peace seemed the only viable way I could support my son and the many soldiers who are sent to clean up the tragic failures of our politicians. In hindsight, there were no WMD found, over 3.7 trillion US dollars have been spent, and an estimated 4.4 trillion will have been spent before the war's end.
I remember the unsettling feelings I had while looking into the eyes of my friends that had gathered to see me off at the fountain outside the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego. They were afraid for my wellbeing, and I was uneasy about the unknown journey that lay before me. Together, we put on our masks of courage and said goodbye. I walked 28 miles that first day, but only covered 22 due to a wrong turn that cost me 6 miles. My friends Don and Jenny met me for dinner and said with a laugh, “How are you going to make it across the United States if you can’t get out of your own back yard?” I quickly educated myself on how to tell which way was east by the location of the sun and the moss growing on trees.
One of the most asked and unasked questions that people seem to have about this peace walk is, why would I take on such an irrational and dangerous task by myself knowing that I was going to be facing extreme conditions with no assistance and a non-supportive public. The answer is quite simple – Love. I had a lot of fear for my personal wellbeing going into this overwhelming endeavor. My support team pulled out because they feared for my safety and thought I would not go without them. I asked for help from many people and organizations who would respond, saying, “I am too busy to get involved.” or “It's too hard and dangerous.” or “You're crazy, and it won't make a difference.” I agreed with all of their answers and knew if I did not go, then who would? So, I left, quite literally, on a shoestring, a prayer, and a lot of faith that got stronger each day.
In the beginning, I would wake each morning, pack up camp, and grab my hair at the sides saying, “What are you doing? You're 44, overweight, and you are going to die out here.” I would stand facing San Diego, and yearn for home. Sometimes, I would shed a tear, and then, I would see my son's face and the faces of his friends and young people that I had met along the way. I would see our soldiers as well as the soldiers on the other side, and I would dig way down deep inside, gather my strength, and take another step east. I loved humankind enough to walk without food or water, to endure the blazing unforgiving sun, to meet conflict with compassion and understanding, to comfort the tears of war veterans still trying to deal with their service to country. I loved enough to walk in the pouring rain, to withstand 60 mile an hour sand storms, to motor my way through subzero blizzards like a steam locomotive, and to wake up with icicles dangling inside my tent. Ultimately, I found that I had a lot of love to give and still do.
My backpack weighed 65 pounds full and I could only carry about three days of food and two days of water. In the deserts, it took about four to five days to walk to the next town and even more if the next town turned out to be a ghost town. However, I soon learned that God provides; I found my faith growing daily and my fear began to fade. I have flat feet that started out at size 11 ½ and grew to size 14. My starting weight was a flabby 225 lbs and shrank to a lean 175 lbs. It was a physically difficult journey that I questioned every morning for the first 1,000 miles. The sweltering heat averaged over 108 degrees and I slowly began to experience the painful effects of dehydration as I lay stiff with severe cramps every night and I started to lose my ability to think rationally.
I finally suffered a death experience five weeks into the walk just north of Wickenburg, AZ coming out of a town called Congress. Somehow, that metaphor seems very funny to me now. Obviously, I was given my life back, making it a “near” death experience. After visiting the afterlife, I came back a changed man. I will talk more about that incredible life-changing experience in the next article. The near-death experience offered me a different, more loving perspective of life, people, and the future. It gave me the courage to love just a little bit more and judge a little bit less.
I began to radiate love to everyone I saw or met. In Arizona, an old beat up pickup truck carrying three men abruptly pulled to the side of the road in front of me. One of the men showed me his gun and ordered me to put my backpack in the back of the truck. Instead, stepping forward, I smiled and said calmly, “You can either shoot me with that gun or shake the hand of peace. Both ways are good with me; which will you choose?” His face became red with rage and his veins began to swell and turn blue. Beloved poured over me like a massive waterfall filled with an overwhelming love and peace far greater than this man's anger or control. I continued to smile, offered him my hand through his open door, and watched his anger slowly melt into a respectful smile as he shook my hand, saying, “You're alright.” I placed my other hand on his shoulder and said, “You're alright, too. Just remember that.”
If this had happened before my near-death experience, where I was blessed to be immersed in such a high level of divine love beyond the capacity for words to describe, I don't believe this event would have had such a great ending. I would not have possessed the knowing that he needed love more than control; that he was good underneath the masks and labels of his criminal life. And, I would not have known that God's love could overflow at such an overwhelming rate as to cut through the darkness, causing both of us to look love directly in the face, and change the outcome of this event.
There are so many good people in this world, and if you are looking through the eyes of love, you are sure to find them. Along this eight month journey, I had many confrontations with individuals who had forgotten their goodness, and only needed to be reminded of it. It is always through one's ability to shine love in the face of ugliness that transcends the darkness into the beautiful light it has always been. And, the masks and labels that mark us falsely start to collapse as we begin to recall our angelic roots beyond this life, and remember we are all quite capable of loving just a little bit more.