I had never before travelled over a thousand miles on foot, and it was to be in a group led by monks I hadn't met, showing banners to passing motorists, eating at strangers' tables, sleeping on their beds or on their floors or beside the road. The strangers were supposed to be friendly supporters of what our banners proclaimed -- yet those proclamations could disturb their fellow citizens, I knew. The highways we would walk traverse a region where live people noted for opposing our ideas, the ideas blazoned on our banners. Was this reputation deserved? How would motorists react? those who lived along the way? the police? our hosts whom someone had found? How would we walkers get along in forced intimacy, bound by politics -- and politics alone? The monks were Buddhists.
Still, I had decided to experiment with six months of my life (Gandhi subtitled his autobiography My Experiments with Truth), and I was heading for New Orleans on a Trailways bus.
I had boarded the bus in Durham at 8 p.m. to go to New Orleans to join the World Peace March. I had heard of this walk to the United Nations about three weeks earlier from a mailing of the North Carolina Peace Network and had talked with the NC state coordinator, Tim McGloin, several times before making the decision to join. During those three weeks I could not get the idea of the walk out of my head. I had recently quit my job as a social worker with a state agency for the blind in order to have more time to devote to peace and justice work. A march through the South attracted me as a way to talk with people about peace.
I was also drawn by the fact that the march was being led by Buddhist monks from Japan. Who could speak of the effects of nuclear weapons better than the Japanese? It was also Buddhist monks who helped to shape world public opinion against the Vietnam War. Who could forget the pictures of monks who poured gasoline over their bodies and set themselves on fire? Also memorable was the image of Tibetan monks meditating for hours on end. (I was to have experience of that when we joined the group which walked from Los Angeles.) Walking such long distance also appealed to me as a personal challenge. Just last summer I had injured both ankles while hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I also have high blood pressure and am visually impaired.
For sure, it would be an adventure! When I left Durham, I had no clear idea what to expect. Incidentally, this was a condition that persisted throughout the march, though perhaps not to the same extent. I did not know how many monks there would be. I had been told that there would be two reporters from Denmark, but not whether either the monks or the reporters spoke English or whether others would join for any length of time. I was a little apprehensive about my ability to speak before groups, to deal with the media, to take care of all the things that must be done on a daily basis -- especially if I were the only English speaker.
Such anticipations were interrupted by conversations like this with a young black man. "Where are you going?" he asked, the usual opening. After he heard my story he expressed surprise: "You mean you paid $120 to ride on this bus for twenty-two hours to New Orleans and then you are going to get off and start walking back tomorrow?" I guess it did sound a little strange. go to page 4