In the fall of 1986 UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) sponsored an around-the-world torch run, titled “The First Earth Run”
Watch a video about it here
Native Americans started the flame using flint. The torch was carried on the east and west coasts but not in the interior of the US. I worked for UNICEF under the direction of Oz Crosby doing logistical planning for the portion of the run that took place between San Jose, California and San Francisco. The flame was maintained in three miner’s lamps. One of the lamps had to be opened to get at the flame in order to light the torch. When the lamp was opened it was very susceptible to being extinguished by the slightest breeze. Even with two lamps as backups it could get quite scary on occasion when two of the three lamps were accidentally extinguished. This happened on the San Jose to San Francisco run.
After the run had completed in December, an NGO I was part of, Pathways To Peace, with help from members of the Baha’i faith retained the flame with the intention of establishing a perpetual peace flame in San Francisco. The flame had been continuously burning now for several months.
At this time I was renting a room in a home outside of Sebastopol, a small town some 55 miles north of San Francisco. I owned an old car that barely ran. I often drove to a restaurant some five miles away for dinner, not having the desire (or ability, for that manner) to gather food and prepare it.
On this occasion, just at dusk, as I had done so many times in the past, I walked to my car prepared to drive to the restaurant. My car refused to start. I now had two choices. Go hungry or walk to the restaurant.
I decided to walk. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal. The road was a winding country road. I should be able to walk the five miles in an hour or so. I had no awareness that this short walk would change my life forever
I found the walk to the restaurant pleasant though it seemed long. After I finished my meal and headed back, dusk had turned to night. The sky was filled with brilliant stars. It was December but it wasn’t cold. I walked, thinking about the new relationship I was in, and thinking back to my time volunteering with UNICEF on the First Earth Run. It saddened me that so few people showed up along the route between San Jose and San Francisco even though we had distributed over 4000 flyers. There were more police guarding the crowds in Hong Kong than Americans along the more than 40 miles. In the midst of these thoughts a new radically different thought entered, coming as a vision. I would carry the eternal flame back to the UN. I would do it by walking the more than 3000 miles. The flame was a flame of peace so I would do a walk of peace.
After the initial excitement passed the vision seemed a bit crazy. The longest I had ever walked in one day was 14 miles hiking with a friend in Yosemite Park. I would turn 55 this coming summer. I was an engineer living a relatively sedentary life and I was in the midst of a new relationship. I could come up with dozens of reasons not to act on this vision. However the vision came with overwhelming intensity. It refused to go away. It was exciting to consider doing something that defied logic and would take an enormous amount of personal strength, physical, emotional, and mental.
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