On a pleasant April day about 600 years ago, Geoffrey Chaucer's 29 poetic pilgrims took off for Canterbury to pay homage to a martyred saint. On March 1, rain or shine, about 30 pilgrims of sorts from Orange County--out of a total of about 1,500 at last count--will be setting off for Washington on The Great Peace March.
One march organizer said of the latter event, "It's going to make a lot of saints."
Pre-departure giddiness aside, the Orange County marchers, who have been getting to know each other at informal meetings, potlucks and fund-raisers for weeks now, are at least as eclectic a band as the odd assortment of medieval characters who introduced themselves at Chaucer's Tabard Inn. And like the Knight and Miller and Wife of Bath, they, too, have tales to tell--although they are reluctant to recite them in rhymed couplets of Middle English.
The Wife of Irvine's Tale
"I used to be a very fearful person, but these last 3 1/2 years I've been able to make a lot of change, mainly by saying yes to risk," said Patti Dornan, 44, of Irvine. Last May, Dornan's husband, Ed, came home from a speech by PRO-Peace founder David Mixner and suggested that, since he couldn't leave his position as professor of literature at Orange Coast College, it might not be a bad idea for his wife to take a 3,235-mile stroll across the country. "I said yes without realizing what that meant," Patti Dornan said.
With only days remaining before she was scheduled to report to the preliminary site of the PRO-Peace (People Reaching Out for Peace) traveling "city," in the San Fernando Valley, "what it meant" was finally beginning to sink in for Dornan. Among other things, being part of the peace march means leaving her husband and her 14- and 15-year-old boys for nine months--and teaching them a few of the things they have taken for granted, such as paying the bills and doing their own ironing and cooking, she said.
It also means she will have to start thinking about making a few adjustments in her own way of life.
For instance, Dornan is going to have to get used to waking up at 5:30 each morning and walking about 15 miles a day for 255 days (rest days excluded). With that in mind, she has been walking and running about eight miles a day in the Irvine hills, she said. As The Marcher Preparation Manual provided by PRO-Peace suggests, Dornan purchased a good sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. She also picked up two pairs of Roc-sport "pro walker" shoes and two pairs of running shoes, "blister resister" socks, silk long underwear, a Gore-tex running suit and extra clothing--all of which she has to stuff into two plastic boxes (13x15x11 inches and 13x17x11 inches) that will slide in and out of a locker mounted on a specially designed luggage truck. And she is designing a color-coding system for the nylon mesh laundry bags that each hiker will periodically turn over to PRO-Peace volunteers to be tossed into industrial washing machines mounted on a trailer.
"This isn't easy for a lot of us to do--to just let go of everything and leave," Dornan said. Such an undertaking has particular significance for her though, she added, explaining that four years ago she experienced a severe anxiety attack and a "tremendous" fear of driving that kept her from venturing far from her house. In the past few years, though, she has overcome that fear, and last year she chauffeured herself 1,800 miles around Nebraska, she said. Now she sees "the March" as the culmination of her own "awakening," as well as "a chance to wake up people who may not even know they're sleeping."
"I'm not a political activist, and I don't even see this as a political movement. I see it as a way of being a collective voice to get people off of the sofa, where they're sitting and feeling that there's no hope for the world. I see it as a way of putting sparks into people and helping them appreciate that they're not powerless. It will give us a voice to say we want peace and nuclear disarmament.
"I can honestly say I am not worried about anything (about the march)," Dornan concluded, with this afterthought: "Every once in a while I ask myself: 'Do I really want to give up all those hot showers?' "
The Psychologist's Tale
"I've been thinking about the emotional aspects of the march, about the behavioral aspects. I think we're going to be in for some stressful times," said Pat Walsh, 62, of Lake Forest.
Walsh, who retired last month as a psychologist with the Orange County Health Department, said he got his first inkling that the nuclear arms race might pose a threat during the 1956 presidential campaign, when Sen. Adlai Stevenson told a San Diego audience about the pollution nuclear testing caused. "I didn't do much about it then," Walsh recalled.