In these last two weeks, I have not felt like the Peace Artist, but rather, I’ve felt like Neal…walking and running.

As I wrote before, I tried all the things I could think of or read in the scriptures of all religions. I tried to do what the peacemakers of yester year did. And, I’ve focused on the path of a certain woman with whom I share almost complete agreement on everything; the Peace Pilgrim.

I found what Jesus said works. Nuff said. I found what the Buddha said works. Nuff said. But, here was a woman who lived darning MY LIFETIME who went from being a normal schmoe to being (self-admittedly) close to God and others. But, I believe if you were to read her writings, you would agree too I believe. I haven’t met any one ever, who disagrees with her basic tenet:

“This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falseness with truth, and hatred with love.”

I had already decided to do this run long before I heard of her, but what she “wrote” and stood for resonated so clearly with me, that it just seemed like the “door was opened” to me. For me, it was somewhat “divine”.

I had been thinking how to do this trip for some time. I didn’t know how I was going to transport all my stuff. I’d thought about Winnebago’s, and sponsorships. Then I thought about a baby running carriage or stroller. I could keep my stuff in that! So to test the idea and see if it was do-able, I bought a cheap on off Craig’s-List. $35 for a $325 stroller, and my friends Thomas and Susan helped me pick it up.

But…that cart sat on my boat for 3 months before I actually tried using it. The very first day that I actually decided to use it, a more confirming experience wouldn’t have been possible. On this initial run, I meet a woman who says out of the blue, “You could run across the country with that thing.” I smile, laugh, and say, “Yep, that is the plan.”

Come to find out, this woman has run across America for peace (with a group of people taking turns).  In addition, she told me of the Peace Pilgrim. I of course investigate this enigmatic woman, and I feel like I’ve found a friend. While researching her however, I found out about Scaughdt, who is also walking in the way Jesus, Buddha, and the Peace Pilgrim as well…except he’s alive.

So…I email him. He calls. We talk…for a long time. I was so excited. Although I didn’t know him, I felt like our hearts were knit together. I was so happy to have a friend who really “got it” and who was actually doing IT.

But…back to my purpose.

Like I said, I’ve done about everything I could think of that Jesus, Buddha, and in ways The Peace Pilgrim have done things. I’m sure that it just the nature of it being my first couple weeks, but I had this uncomfortable feeling that it was devolving into a monologue of how nice people were to me. Honestly, this is probably because that was what I was, in no small way, concerned with. The how’s? How do I eat? How do I go to the bathroom? How do I shower? Do I stink? What about toilet paper? Camping? Where? Rain? Safety? Bears? Raccoons? Cold? Hot?

Then there was my body? My knee hurt, and then my soles too. I got shin splints, pulled hamstrings, swelling of the kneecap, and inflammation of the IT Band.  (Yes, I experienced all this in the last two weeks) It got so bad, that the night that I met Sandy and Ross at South Beach, I said, “Look God/Universe/One/IT, if you really want me to go on, and this is really what I am supposed to do, then you need to heal me. Because, if not I’m gonna quit.”

It wasn’t a threat, but surrender. The next morning, everything was healed.

I worry when I write this stuff, that many of you will write me off. Cast my experiences to the side and say, OK…Neal is crazy. Or that you will just write me off as someone who “found religion”. Although spirituality has a lot to do with what I am going through, I am not a crazy guy. (I suppose that is the claim of every insane person) It has been my experience though that crazy people don’t have a sense of humor. 🙂

But again, purpose.

So know, I’m walking/running and God, the Universe, the Earth; whatever you wanna call it has been taking care of me. People have been taking care of me. Otherwise, by all our conventional wisdom, I should be dead, or at least starving to death. People are good.

But, I am just walking and walking and walking. I do some art, I talk to some people. But it all seems…a little forced. It is like I’m doing it because I believe it, but also because it is what I think I ought to do, and for lack of a better reason, I am copying things that the Peace Pilgrim did as well as what Scaughdt does. A sort of, fake it till you make it. And, as mentioned before, my posts became a litany of who did this for me, who did that for me, it was all me me me. I knew that that can’t be the point of all this, can it? Just to be a reporter of those who were nice to me? This is what I am supposed to do?

Then tonight I met M. and P. They are homeless, and are living in a tent, and I ended up camping near them. They shared their fire as easily as their lives, and both were warm. M. shared with me his hurt and his happiness. He shared of their struggles financially, of their willingness to stay together through thick and thin, homelessness, and rain.

M. told me of two big hurts in his life, and the pain of them is still palpable. He told me how he had taken care of two handicapped men. Men, who’s own wives had left them after they became handicapped. M., although he didn’t have much, what he had he offered to these men. He didn’t mention it, but I understood what he meant. He meant that he went and showered these men, wiped their asses for them, moped up their urine, replaced their catheters, and clothed them. He told me these men’s stories, how they felt so helpless, ashamed, and of their wounded pride when even their former wives didn’t want to do it anymore and divorced them. He spoke of the fact that although he didn’t have much, it was the right thing to do. It was the compassionate thing to do, how could he not do it?

P. and he are homeless, and living in a tent in the woods. But, they have been together 30 years this year, and after all that they have been through, they are still together even here in the woods.

“There’s no work. We are in the portion of Washington with the greatest unemployment.” Luckily, M. has got some work during the summer, always a busy time for men in construction. So everyday they trek down the hill to town and then turn around and return to the camp at night.

They were lovely people and full of light and kindness.

As I sauntered back to my tent with my head in a cloud, I realized my purpose. It isn’t to tell what I am doing, and peoples compassionate acts and demonstrations to me. It isn’t for me to keep harping on what a great idea it would be if everyone would be nice and love. It isn’t for me to come and make a “vacation”, or even to work my butt off at painting the “American Scenery”.

My purpose is to tell other people’s stories. Stories of their pain, and despite that pain they chose to forgive anyway. To write of the heartache that people have learned to surrender. Tales of compassion demonstrated, peace given, and love felt. I’m not a great writer, but I am getting better. I’m not a great artist, but I am getting better. But I can write and I can draw these true Jesus’s and these true Buddhas that I meet.

I don’t need to teach anyone anything anyway. I’m just a babe myself. Besides, we already know what we need to know anyway. WE have ALL been kind at one time when we didn’t have to. We have all shown compassion to one-another when it cost us a little and sometimes a lot. We have all bit our lip when we could have said something mean or hurtful. We have all acted like Jesus or Buddha…a lot. We know how it feels to tell the truth when we really didn’t want to. We know what it is to own-up to our mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and also what it feels like to be forgiven. We all know the bad and we all know the good.

My purpose is to share with you and as many people as I can, what kind and compassionate things others are doing around the country and perhaps around the world.

My dad always teases me that all this writing is for my upcoming book. All kidding aside, I have NO doubt in my mind that I could write a book about the kindnesses and compassion of others! I would have no problem doing their portraits, and perhaps landscapes or still life where I meet this amazing wonderful people; these Buddhas that walk among us. There is no shortage; they are everywhere.

I feel like all this, the pilgrimage, my entire life makes sense now. Like it has all come together. This is what I am supposed to do. The moral and religious leaders told us how to do it; I want to tell the stories of those who have actually lived it in ways that we all can relate. To speak of the love, peace, and compassion that lives in us all, and is demonstrated by many.

I am so happy.