I walked the busy road to Dubrovnik (Croatia) that day, feeling as if the entire Universe was screaming at me to pay attention to the word Ivan. I had become accustomed to listening to intuition on this 5000-km peace pilgrimage that Alberto and I were walking, so when he told me that he was receiving similar messages, we decided to stop and wait.
Across the road, a young woman stepped out of a restaurant and, in English, asked if she could help us. We answered “yes” in unison, and followed her inside. She looked to be in her twenties, with long, flowing auburn hair and a lovely face. Her green eyes struck me not only for their beauty and kindness, but the sadness they conveyed. Handing us our drinks, she asked what we were doing. She listened politely to our story, but her averted gaze and folded arms told me there was something she didn’t agree with. We invited her to join us, and introduced ourselves.
“I am Ivana,” she said. My heart lurched.
I learned that her family was Bosnian and that the civil war had forced them into refugee camps. Unable to return to their home, they now lived in a land that did not welcome them and that generally regarded them with disdain. Only after years of hard work building their family restaurant, were they finally being accepted in their community.
“I think what you’re doing is admirable,” she said, smiling sadly, “but I don’t think it will change anything. One person can’t make a difference.”
“Gandhi was one man, and he made a difference,” I replied. “He said we must be the change we wish to see in the world. That’s all we’re trying to do. Every day people stop to speak with us. They honk their horns and wave in support. They offer us food, drink, shelter. For that brief moment, their attention is on peace.”
“Most people here only think about surviving,” Ivana responded. “They don’t have the luxury of thinking about creating peace. They’ve learned that even when they try to speak about peace, they can be arrested.”
“We’ve met so many people during this walk who are building peace,” Alberto added, “but they think they’re alone. They’re the ordinary people who step out of their daily routines to help us. They’re the real heroes of the world. Thanks to them, I believe more than ever in the goodness of people and our power to change the world.”
“It’s hard to believe I can make a difference by being nice to someone,” Ivana contested.
I asked her for a piece of paper and, while she spoke with Alberto, wrote out words immortalized by Nelson Mandela and that I had long ago memorized. They were given me the day I was questioning my audacity to dream of working for peace.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are we not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Ivana’s lips curved into a smile. It was a smile of hope, of believing in the impossible. I understood then what this journey was truly about: I was giving people back their power. Sitting before Ivana, I couldn’t think of a more powerful purpose than to awaken that in each person.
By: Mony Dojeiji, author, pilgrim (http://walkingforpeace.com).