“I’m pretty tired, I think I’ll go home now,” is all he said. The iconic scene from the movie “Forest Gump” shows a man in the middle of Monumental Valley when he decides…”I’m done.” My dad gave me good advice when I started this trip. He suggested watching this scene from the movie. He said, “If that moment comes on day 1 or day 1000, mile 1 or mile 1000, or whenever…when you are done, you are done.”

I’m done running…at least around the country.

I ran from Seattle to San Diego, and from San Diego to where I am now, Savannah. I’m pretty tired; I think I’ll go home now. There was no ticker tape parade, no marching band, no pats on the back or congratulatory hand shakes when I arrived last night. No mayors with keys to the city, but I don’t need or want that stuff. There were no arms of friends to go to dinner with, no arms to embrace, and no lovers to kiss.

But more sadly, there was no global armistice. I’ve done what I could. I tried to create world peace, but my work, my run weren’t in vain. There have been moments of peace—lots of them.

There was the high school basketball player that decided to not enlist but play ball in college. There was the man and women involved in a domestic dispute that I helped, there was the old lady I helped across the street, the man I helped load his car, the lady I stacked wood for, the man I helped paint his house, and the countless people I’ve drawn.

Well, not really countless. I’ve given away 482 “peaces” of artwork on this trip. I’ve drawn old men and young girls. I’ve drawn birds, dogs, barns, lakes, rivers, trees, clouds and lots and lots of flowers.

I’ve been rained on, sunburned, and blistered. I’ve had shin splints, hemorrhoids, and poison oak. Snakes, pigs, skunks, cockroaches, and dogs have woken me. I’ve been flipped off, insulted, made fun of, and that I’m going to hell. I’ve been hungry, alone, and wet. I’ve been angry, frustrated, and discouraged.

But, I’ve also been loved.

I began this run nearly 1 year ago. I’ve covered over 6,000 miles, 12 months, 10 states, 7 pairs of shoes, 4 tires, 12 bottles of sunscreen, tons of pizzas, and an ocean of water.

In that entire time I have not missed a meal. Think of that. People have been kind…and I never asked for a thing…except for water. Think of that, with out asking people have provided me with food for an entire year. Friends have put me up in hotels when I needed it as well, too many to count.

I’ve thought a lot on the road. I thought about my parents, my friends, old loves, people I’ve wronged, and those who have wronged me. When able, I’ve contacted all of them, begged forgiveness or offered the same. I honestly don’t know of anyone with whom I haven’t made or am not at peace with.

I’ve strengthened friendships and made new ones. I’ve giggled with children and old men. I watched movies in the middle of the desert, smoked weed with hippies in the forest, prayed with Tibetan Buddhists, gone to church with Mormons, been prayed for by fundamental Christians, and talked science with Atheists. I’ve shared cookies with the homeless, slept out with the Occupy movement, built fires on the banks of rivers, bathed in streams and faucets, froze my ass off on the continental divide, been nearly run over by log trucks, faced 80 mph head winds, and 100 flat tires. I’ve listened to hours of podcasts.

I’ve read the bible, the Koran, the watchtower, the book of the dead, and the book of Mormon, Tich Nat Hahn, and Stephen Hawking. I’ve been called a saint, and been told I’m going to burn in hell. I’ve been given hugs, kisses, and I’ve been made love to. I’ve drunk a lot of beers over dinners with people, and ate cold soup from a can in the middle of the desert.

I’ve learned from men, women, and children I admire. I’ve looked at sacrifices and selfless services of nurses, dentists, truck drivers, and homeless people I know and have met.

I’ve accepted rides, money, food, shoes, tires, groceries, hotels, clothes, and even meat when it was offered to me. I’ve also refused much of the same when appropriate.

“Why are you doing this?” is the most common question I’m asked. I’ve had lots of answers to that question. The real reason I did this is that I couldn’t think of anything else that made as much sense. I tried to think of the biggest thing that I could do for peace, and this was it. I couldn’t sit back and do nothing. But, I couldn’t with good conscious do that anymore.

If I continued to do nothing to stop the wars of the world, the senseless killing and hurting of children, I felt as if I was complicit in the act. I might as well be pulling the trigger.

I did it for my cousin. I told him when he enlisted years ago that would never forgive Bush if he got hurt. He did get hurt. He was blown up in a Hummer in Afghanistan. He can’t walk, has PTSD, and isn’t the same sweet boy he was when he went in. I’ve forgiven the powers the continue to sacrifice men and women, and wrap their greed in an American flag and call it patriotism. But, I will never give in.

I am for peace. I’ve created peace— certainly within me, without a doubt in many relationships, but perhaps a bit in the world. I now feel that there are other ways that I can make a bigger contribution…and still remain Peace. Which prompts the questions?

Is Peace the run?

Is Peace the art?

Is Peace the writing?

Is Peace the conversations?

For me, peace is the way I choose to live my life.

I’ve decided to make a change. My intention in starting out on this pilgrimage was to be the change I wish to see. I now see a way that I can make even more change.

When do you know that you have accomplished what you set out to do? I feel that this notion has arrived with the realization that there is more I can accomplish in a different capacity. I am a far better artist than gymnastics coach, and a better coach than I am a runner. I believe that I can use my abilities now in a more precise and focused way.

The miles of this trip really haven’t been the important part. I don’t really keep track of them. I do obviously keep track of the “peaces” of art that I’ve given away. To date, nearly 500 pieces have found their way into the hands of people around the US and abroad…in less than a year. Fun, but I’ve never forgotten what I gave up for this trip. I gave up a lot. I gave up comforts and the illusion of success and security.

No regrets. My original intention was to do the entire trip around the US in about 56 weeks. But, there were distractions and injuries, long visits and constant serendipity. 2 weeks for shin splints, 2 weeks in SF, 1 week in LA, 1 week in SD, 1 month in PHX, digestion problems in TX, 2 months coaching in SF…….

Now I’ve run from north to south, and from coast to coast. One year will come on August 15th. I did the entire west coast, and for the most part trans-America. Enough.

10,000 or 6,000…does it really matter?

As I’ve gone around the US, I’ve had lots of opportunities to guest coach at gymnastics gyms, and I’ve been offered a number of positions, 9 to be exact. Two in Phoenix, one in Oregon, one in Seattle, and five in the bay area. But I haven’t accepted any, although any of these would be a fantastic opportunity, with talented kids, in terrific gyms, working with many of my friends and expert coaches and owners. None felt right at the moment, or the right fit for me. And obviously, I was on the pilgrimage.

Recently though I received another request. This one was different. It came from the gym that started me on my own gymnastics journey when I was younger. This gym is a not-for-profit entity, and has never turned away a gymnast for lack of funds. Every year they seek out, and receive grants and funds to help students of lower socio-economic strata participate in gymnastics.

In addition, they are community based, always hire from within first before outsourcing, and have been family owned since 1973. Their list of accomplishments include:

-17 Olympians

-56 National Champions

-525 Regional Champions

-1,150 State Champions

-And most importantly over
30,000 Happier, Healthier Kids

I have toyed with the idea of running around the world for peace, walking to Iran as St. Francis did to protest our countries intentions in that country. But, I believe that by being rooted in one place, I can effect more change in more people’s lives.

The gym the Nation Academy of Artistic gymnastics in Eugene, Oregon has hired me to be a coach. As I said, it is where I started gym. I could tell you a lot about their philosophy, and how it differs from many gyms, but I think one anecdote will put it all into perspective.

When I was talking to owner, Jojo, I expressed that I desired to create a program for at risk youth. To use gymnastics as an outlet for talented young men and women who have gotten themselves into trouble in way or another. I told her of my vision for a traveling gym program that I could take to small schools that don’t have P.E. any longer, and more importantly, a program that would enable me to go into Juvenile Detention centers and give these at-risk youth a chance to know what it feels like to flip, and the joy that can be had by this.

Jojo responded, “I have a semi truck filled with old equipment. I’ve been harassed by everyone to sell it or just get rid of it. But for some reason, I’ve just been holding onto it. If you are going to use it for these kinds of kids, then you can have all of it.”

Wow. This is the kind of person that I want to work for.

Jojo said, “Are you sure that you have accomplished all that you wanted to…please don’t have any regrets. Please do everything that you need to accomplish. We will be here when you are ready.” These are amazing people. It says a lot about her, families, and her companies culture and character that they would put my needs before their own.

Now to the question of salary. The business world would dictate that you never go down from one employer to another. But, this whole time I’ve been running around the US, I’ve not worried about money, and yet all my needs have been met. I have yet to miss a meal in an entire year. People have given me haircuts, shoes, socks, clothes, art supplies, and love…without me ever asking.

I offered to work for free, but Jojo insisted on paying me. We talked about my former salaries but in the end I told Jojo, “You know my needs, and what I hope to accomplish. You know why I am doing this. I know you will do the best for the people that you currently employ, the parents, and the kids. I know you will do the best you can by me. I trust you, just like you are trusting me to come and do what I say I can in your program.”

My intention is to continue to be peace. I am going to try to continue to serve in other ways as well. I will seek to become a volunteer fireman or “den mother” at a homeless shelter and therefore have my living accommodations cared for. If necessary, I will continue to sleep outside. I will save all the money from the salary I receive and purchase land/or a house where I can grow food and house the homeless youth. I will begin auctioning off my artwork in order to purchase gym equipment and a van/truck to haul it to and from the juvenile detention center.

I will continue to be peace.

It is my earnest intention to continue in everyway that I have learned on this trip. I learned to not worry about “stuff” on this trip and to not ask for anything but just allowed the universe to surprise me. I will continue to seek to give and be compassionate, but I will just be doing it in one place. Perhaps I can be an instrument to create more change, more love, and more peace in one spot than I’ve been able to in my traveling.

And so it is that I will end the running portion of this pilgrimage and begin the stationary portion. A stationary pilgrimage, perhaps an oxymoron, but I believe that the universe has more surprises for me. My intention is to continue to give away art as well. However, I will have the chance to produce larger pieces now, works in pastel and oil, and I will begin to use works of art to fund works of peace.

“I still miss him,” the mother of one of my former students told me. She was quoting the young man that I loved and coached. She continued, “Guess that means that he hasn’t figured out that he probably always will. You definitely, have a piece of his heart with you wherever you go.” The words of the eight-year-old boy echo the feelings that I have felt myself.

I’ve missed gymnastics. I’ve missed working with young boys. Now, I have the chance to be peace to a whole new group of young men. To start it right from the beginning. Coaching as peace. Coaching as love. Coaching as kindness.

I am the peace artist.

 

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