Though it may seem strange, I never initiate conversations with anyone that I meet. Sure I wave peace to them, or say hello. I may even drop a conversation about the weather, but I don’t ever talk about my pilgrimage unless someone asks me about it. The tunic says what I am doing, if someone wants to know, I’ll tell them, but I don’t barrage everyone I meet with, “Hey, I’ve got some great stuff to talk to you about!!!” To me this is the most compassionate way to interact.

Yesterday, I met two gentlemen, while passing them on the street. They were young guys, walking somewhere, and trying not to get bit by the chill of the wind and the slight drizzle. As I passed them, they asked me what I was doing. I told them, and apologized that I didn’t have any art works created to give them. Danny explained that he worked at a hotel, and if I wanted he would comp me a room. How generous; what a kind soul. As I walked away, I off the cuff told them, that if they wanted I would draw their portraits. Usually everyone says no, especially women, but these guys were ecstatic. They just wondered what the cost was? “Nothing,” I told them, “I give away all my works as a peace offering.” They took me up on my offer, and we dropped our butts into some chairs at the nearest coffee shop. These two guys were terrific models, they didn’t move an inch and as such would have made terrific guards at Buckingham Palace.

As I came to find out, Danny’s little girl (2 mo. old) was christened that morning, and Joel had come down from Seattle to witness it; good guys and good friends. While I was drawing them, Danny asked me if I was hungry. I told him I was fine and that I had plenty of food. But, he insisted and exclaimed the virtues of the local “authentic” Mexican restaurant. Whatever you want, it is on me, no arguments…tell ’em Danny sent you; I’ll call them now. True to his word, Danny did call and the burrito was magnificent. So kind.

I next met Kathy as she took her smoke break and walked her dog down the Siletz river as it pours into the ocean. The spot I had set up to paint was majestic, and Kathy claimed it was her favorite on the Oregon coast…I can see why. Just as I was finishing though, it started to rain again, and nearly ruined the picture.

Next I met John, a biker from Canada. John and I talked about how each of us has a personal responsibility to the ecology of the Earth. We talked about how hard it would be to even get the average American to stop using their dryer, and instead go back to hanging their laundry. John tried to give me some money, but we settled for a hearty handshake.

This morning, I followed another biker down a scenic by-pass that proved to be one of the most beautiful roads I’ve run on this entire trip. I put on some John Denver and sang loud, praising the trees, the earth, and the sea. I couldn’t have been happier. That all changed as I made the summit of Cape Foulweather. Perhaps the name should have been a clue to what lay ahead.

Feeling delighted with the morning, I strode into the gift shop to see what trinkets were about and to see the promised “World’s Largest Insect”. While in the emporium of curios and novelty, an older gentleman and his adult daughter noticed my tunic and asked me what it was about. “Are you one of the ‘artists’ that provides the knick-knack for this shop?”

“No, I’m running a pilgrimage around the US,” I said, and turned around to let them read “Running 10,000 miles for Love, Art, & Peace” written on my back.

“There is just one thing that I would add to that,” the man said.

“What?” I asked.

“I would add, ‘For Jesus’,” he said.

“Actually, I believe I am a follower of the Way of Jesus. I am trying to do the things he actually said to do, which most Christians I know don’t. I believe I’m a follower of the Way of Jesus that is rather than Paul, I found that those two are at odds with each other,” I added. “I listened to all the things Jesus and Buddha said to do, love your enemies, sell all that you have and give to the poor, you must disown father and mother……”

“THAT IS NOT what he said!” The 30-ish woman scolded me, rolled her eyes and walked away. The man kept talking at me, but not with me. He recited scripture verses and told me of his own conversion experience. He related that he hoped that I would come to know Jesus as the way the truth and the life. I wanted merely to talk with him, it became obvious to me that he didn’t want to discuss anything with me, but rather wanted to “set me straight.” It was plain that somehow I had inadvertently offended his daughter.

When she came back, impatient that her father was still talking to me, I said to her, “Forgive me if I have offended you. I only meant to answer your father’s question and tell you what I did. If I may explain what…..”

“You said what you said, and you can’t take it back. Explaining what you said won’t make it right, and I’m not going to stand here and listen to anyone twist what He said!” She said with with a condemning and judgmental tone. And with this, she began to storm away. I said goodbye to the man, and called out after both of them, “Peace to you. I love you.” At that, she laughed out loud as if I had said the most preposterous thing imaginable.

My heart sank.

The morning, the day, the scenery, the music, everything seemed so nice until now. I asked myself, what if anything had I said that was offensive? Was I wrong? Was I hurtful? Did I lack compassion? I was talking about what I did, and not what I would prescribe for others, but was I offensive?

As I walked out of the store, I saw them driving away, I waved peace to them again and mouthed the words I love you. As they drove away, I kept doing Tonglen for them. I kept feeling compassion for them, and sending them my peace.

But, after that, as I thought about what transpired, I didn’t have much peace left. I was so upset with this incident it colored the rest of the morning. Had I been at fault? I went through a mental checklist:

1. I didn’t approach them.

2. I didn’t bring up religion.

3. I answered the question posed to me.

4. I talked about my personal decisions.

5. I tried to apologize.

But I was still very upset. Why?…..I was hurt. I felt judged and condemned. I felt unloved. They didn’t know me at all, but they heard enough to draw some decision about me such as, I wasn’t “saved” and that I was twisting the words of their God, and thus didn’t deserve their time. I have been flipped off and been told to my face that I was insane and crazy, but it took 2 Christians to make me feel the most unloved. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I compared the acts and words of Danny (a Christian) and the acts and words of these people I’d just met. I asked myself who were my actions more like, Danny who tried to feed and shelter a complete stranger, or these to who made me feel judged and condemned? I found that I was given to both. As such, it gave me compassion for them, and thankfulness for the example of Danny and Joel. And with that, I forgave them and beamed them love.

The rest of the day I was very guarded with my words and checked myself to see if I was being offensive with the words I’ve chosen. I pretty much in the last month have developed stock answers for the many familiar question that I’m asked. I never offer answers unless asked, being sensitive to the proclivities of the persons that I meet. I feel that that is the most compassionate way.

All this was forgotten as I stumbled into the Yaquina Head Lighthouse and National Park. There, working at the main gate booth, I met Ashley. I asked her if I was OK going in, and she asked me about my tunic. Now I was gun shy, and I was cautions. I said the exact same things I always say except, Ashley’s response was night and day compared to the encounter I had earlier that day. She was just bubbly, jovial, happy with life. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with her for the short time that I did. I told her that I was going to paint the lighthouse, and if she wanted I would show her when I returned.

The lighthouse was one of the prettiest vistas I’ve had this trip, and I had the chance to meet and talk, and gauge my words with all the others I encountered. Then I realized, it wasn’t what I said. No one that I had met this entire trip had had that same reaction. I did what I needed to do afterward. I tried as best I could to convince them that I loved them despite the misunderstanding, I apologized for the misundstanding, and I had compassion for them. That is my part; I think that I did the best I could given the situation. Perhaps there was something I could have done better, but I can’t see what. Perhaps some of you might enlighten me?

But, I think that I won’t talk of my personal thoughts on religion anymore. Peace, Love, and Art. This IS what my tunic says, despite other’s who desire to see Buddha, Jesus, or Muhammad’s name there attached. Love is the only thing that matters, everything else is a sideshow, divisive, and of negligible importance.

Afterward, I returned to the kiosk where Ashley was fastidiously working. I gave my peace offering to her, and she gave me the hug that I needed all day. As I left, I told her that I wished that I lived around here, because I thought that she and I would become fast friends.

As I strode away, I wondered how many other amazing wonderful people like Ashley, Danny, Joel, Kathy, and John that I will be able to meet in the coming days, weeks, and years. Peace.