Peace Pilgrim’s Near Death Experience

Peace Pilgrim

Peace Pilgrim

When Mildred Norman adopted the name “Peace Pilgrim” and decided to give up her every posession and begin this journey, walking across the US, she was warned of two dangers. One was that it was not safe for a lone woman to be walking outside and the other was that she would not be safe out in the elements. Both dangers came to pass in her very first trip across the US. We talked about the first danger in our earlier post. The other incident happened in Arizona not long after the first incident. The story in her own words:

“This was the most beautiful experience I ever had. I was walking in a very isolated section of the high mountains of Arizona where there was no habitation for many miles. That afternoon there came a surprising snowstorm. I have never seen such a storm. If the snow had been rain you would have called it a cloudburst. Never had I seen snow dumped down like that! “

“All of a sudden I was walking in deep snow and was unable to see through what was falling. Suddenly I realized that the cars had stopped running. I supposed they were getting stuck on the highway and unable to pass. Then it got dark. There must have been a heavy cloud cover. I could not see my hand before my face, and the snow was blowing into my face and closing my eyes. It was getting cold. It was the kind of cold that penetrates into the marrow of your bond.”

“If ever I were to lose faith and feel fear, this would have been the time, because I knew there was no human help at hand. Instead, the whole experience of cold and the snow and the darkness seemed unreal. Only God seemed real… nothing else. I mad complete identification – not with my body, the clay garment which is destructible – but with the reality which activates the body and is indestructible.”

“I felt so free; I felt everything would be all right, whether I remained to serve in this earth life or I if I went on to server in another freer life beyond. I felt guided to keep on walking, and I did, even though I couldn’t tell whether I was walking along the highway or out into some field. I couldn’t see anything. My feet in my low canvas shoes were like lumps of ice. They felt so heavy as I plodded along. My body began to turn numb with cold.”

“After there was more numbness than pain, there came what some would call an hallucination – wand what some would call a vision. It was as though I became aware, not only of the embodied side of life where everything was black darkness, bitter cold, and swirling snow – but also so close it seemed I could step right into it, of the unembodied side of life where everything was warmth and light. There was such great beauty. It began with familiar color, but transcended familiar color. It began with familiar music, but transcended familiar music.”

“Then I saw beings. They were very far away. One of them moved towards me very quickly. When she came close enough, I recognized her. She looked much younger than she had looked when she passed over.”

“I believe that at the time of the beginning of the change called death, those nearest and dearest come to welcome us. I have been with dying friends who have stepped over and I remember well how they talked to their loved ones on both sides… as though they were all right there in the room together. So I thought my time had come to step over, and I greeted her. I either said or thought, “You have come for me?” But see shook her head! She motioned me for me to go back! And just at that exact moment I ran into the railing of a bridge. The vision was gone.”

“Because I felt guided to do so, I groped my way down that snowy embankment and got under the bridge. There I found a large cardboard packing box with wrapping paper in it. Very slowly and clumsily in my numb condition, I managed to get myself into that packing box, and somehow with my numbed fingers managed to pull the wrapping paper around me. There under the bridge, during the snowstorm, I slept. Even there shelter had been provided!”

Both these experiences strengthened her. She felt as if she had passed these “tests” and as a result she was no longer afraid. Never again in the next 28 years of wandering she would face any mortal danger as she faced during these two incidents.

As Peace Pilgrim walked across the country and entered various towns she would have speaking arrangements lined up. In the beginning they were spur-of-the-moment type but later as her fame spread she would be booked solid for every minute of the day. In the first year she was arrested twice for vagrancy. But she turned these incidents into great opportunities, connecting with her fellow inmates and spreading the message of peace. When the authorities realized that she was not affiliated to any communist movement she was released without any charges being pressed.

When Peace Pilgrim completed her first cross-country walk in December of 1953, she felt thankful and humbled that she was able to complete the mission that she had been called out to do. She then went to the Grand Central Station to sleep. Over there she had another vision. Here is the story in her own words:

When I cam into the state between sleep and wakefulness, I had an impression that an indescribably beautiful voice was speaking words of encouragement: “You are my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased.” When I came into full wakefulness it seemed as though a celestial orchestra had just finished playing in the station, with its echoes still lingering on. I walked out into the cold morning, but I felt warm. I walked along the cement sidewalk, but I felt I was walking on the clouds. The feeling of living in harmony and with divine purpose never left me.”

Peace Pilgrim’s pilgrimages across the country were not done to seek attention to herself. They were done out of a deeper calling and people saw that and that is why she was so successful. She began her 2nd Pilgrimage in 1955 from San Francisco, California. In 1964, after 13 years on the road, she reached the 25,000 miles target that she had set out to achieve. From now on she stopped counting but she kept walking. This freed her up to walk along the smaller roads where there were no mile markers. She could now go to the small towns that were formerly out of reach and hike the mountains. She also started accepting rides to and from speaking engagements. But she would ask to be dropped back to the same spot where she was picked up from.

Peace Pilgrim never asked for or accepted money or charged any fee for her speaking engagements. In the beginning when people sent her money though mail she would give it away to the next church or needy person she met. But later as her correspondence grew she saved some money, enough to pay for postage. She felt that her message was deeply spiritual and it would be sacrilegious to charge money for it.

She would generally be walking south in the fall and across the southern part of the country in the winter. Then she would walk north in the spring, and across the northern part of the country in the summer. On the average she did about 25 to 30 miles per day. She needed a new pair of sneaker about every 1500 miles. She never tired nor ever got sick. This is because as she said she lived on “spiritual energy.” She was always joyous and fun to meet and talk to. “How can you know God and not be Joyous?” was her response to why she was always so upbeat. She had a mailing address (her sister’s address) from where all her mail got forwarded to where she was going to be next on her route.

When the Vietnam War ended in 1975 after her 22 years of walking she felt that she was finally making some headway on her mission of peace. This was because the war had ended due to public pressure. But she felt no compulsion to stop. The seeds of war were still within us and she vowed to keep walking till the spiritual maturity of humankind had reached a level where no war was possible. She began her seventh pilgrimage in 1978. She was 70 years old. Still she had boundless energy and was in “radiant health”. In 1981 just a few weeks short of her 73rd Birthday she quietly expressed her desire to “go quickly”. A few days later, as she was being driven to a speaking engagement an on-coming car crossed the median strip and hit the car she was in head-on. She died shortly after impact.

Peace Pilgrim left an incredible impression on all those she met. And in the 28 years of her walking up and down the country she met hundreds of thousands of people and she gave thousands of interviews. It may not be an understatement to say that this one single saint of a woman made a huge impact on the psyche of an entire nation.

Her impact can be seen from a letter she got from a person she had met on the road: “What have you done to me! All I did was ask a nice lady if she wanted a ride, and I end up with a whole new world of wonders before me. Every day now my life is rapidly changing. I simply am not the man I was a month ago, a week ago- yesterday. I continue to find new meaning in our conversation.”

This concludes the three part series on the life of Peace Pilgrim.

Part 1: The Saint Who Walked Her Talk
Part 2: A Test Of A Pilgrim

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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