Whether raising funds or promoting public awareness, walkers and marchers put their feet where there mouth is as a symbolic gesture of "walking their talk."
On October 15th a group of area residents will hike a 10 kilometer (6-mile) route, signifying their commitment to the Crop Walk, an annual event that raises money to help decrease hunger in our community and around the world.
More than likely, a French-Canadian Montreal gentleman will also be on a special walk that day Ė and possibly every day for the next ten years. His goal is not 6 miles; it is about 50,000. Jean Beliveauís mission of promoting peace and non-violence throughout the world incorporates a walk around the world.
If Jean were a single, youthful and adventurous soul, free of commitments to a job, a female (Luce Archambeault), two children (Thomas Eric, 20 and Eliza Jane, 18), and soon a grandchild, the departure might seem more comprehendible. But for those who wonder if a bit of irrationality accompanies this behavior, recall the result of Moses and the former slaves of Egypt after 40 wandering years in the desert. More unfathomable stories have been recorded. Will Jeanís be one more addition?
Whether or not this admirable venture is completed, it would take only minutes of meeting with Jean to be convinced of his earnestness.
Hudsonís Mayor Ken Cranna, my neighbor, was returning from an unexpected invitation to the McCrady home, where a local staff writer was gathering information and photos regarding this fascinating venture. "I just met a man who is walking around the world," Ken shared. His story synopsis peaked my interest, so Ken volunteered to take me to the house the world walker had randomly chosen. Jeanís hope was that he be allowed to watch his interview on a newscast recorded earlier that day in Albany.
Only a few streets from my home I met Jean, seated comfortably at a dining room table with Karen McCrady, her mom Shirley Leccese, aunt Sharon Morrison, and a male reporter. The journalist was offering geographic travel advice as the two men surveyed a large black and white map with its route charted across oceans and continents.
A previous commitment prevented my conducting a lengthy interview, so 9:00 the next morning was scheduled. Kindly permitted to borrow two newspapers from cities north, I looked forward to reading Jeanís front-page articles. Still unsure as to his purpose, I felt certain the substance went deeper than the completion of a record-setting performance. My assumption was confirmed.
If space confinement were not an issue, I could compose a book relating Jeanís Travels, especially given the influx of updates supplied electronically by Luce. A page per week has been the pattern, as she devotedly shares facts and feelings that no doubt help her bear his absence. "A whole week now that Jean has left for his journey around the world," begins her first entry. "It sure seems a lot longer than that, the way we all miss him, but let me tell you that there are a lot of things happening in one week!" Luceís articulate summaries are a pleasure to read, as are personal communications Iíve received as the result of my relaying digital pictures and inquiries. I will, however, leave the book writing to Jean, another of his humble but laudable intentions.
So modest is Jeanís demeanour, his plans were not revealed to his family until 3 weeks prior to step-off day, August 18, his 45th birthday. Luce admits however, she sensed a plan formulating. Jean had returned to regular workouts (mainly jogging) and was curious as to the mileage he would cover if he put all his steps consecutively, one after another; would it be possible to go around the world on foot? If so, he did not want to be perceived as an ordinary tourist, and felt he should have a specific goal to put his walk on a superior level Ė where both his body and soul would benefit.
Whether coincidence or fate, Jean happened upon information concerning the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizationís (UNESCO) project, Manifesto 2000. In existence for 55 years, UNESCOís objective is to contribute peace and security in the world through education, economic and social development, respect, equality, democratic participation, understanding, tolerance and solidarity, communication, and knowledge. Certainly high ideals, but small continuous steps, as Jean seems confident, can produce giant ones. As an inspirational new beginning, this millennium is chosen as "an opportunity to transform, all together, the culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and non-violence." The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the year 2000 as the International Year for the Culture of Peace. Realizing this is a long-term process, 2001-2010 is designated as the International Decade for a Culture of World Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World. It is a purpose for which Jean walks. Will his 10-year trek rouse worldwide motivation? "(Jean) is not representing UNESCO nor the UN" Luce states, "Öbut his walk is dedicated to the same goalsÖand since we will be traveling to other planets soon, we should be a United Small Planet to start with."
"Run, Forrest, run," from the movie Forrest Gump, was chanted in a revised version by Jeanís supportive children. Community, family and friends rallied him off; Montrealís mayor supplied a letter offering credibility to hesitant hosts (and personnel at borderlines), and his safely covered, aerodynamic stroller was packed and ready to roll. His treasured black book, containing photos of loved ones and comments and signatures of what may become 76 countries worth of acquaintances and friends, keep his spirits high. "Of course I miss my family, and endure rain and sore legs (even a case of indigestion), but every day is an adventure," Jean expressed, struggling a bit to communicate in English. Language dictionaries are necessary reading material as he travels into foreign territories. A water tank, tent, sneakers (perhaps 60 pair by tripís end) and healthful snacks are further necessities. By the end of week three, Jean had reached NYC, using a weeklong stop to rest, record, and regroup for the next phase of his journey.
The McCrady family is one of perhaps thousands who will receive Jean with generous hospitality. "He saw the welcome sign by our door and decided to stop," explained 13-year-old Logan, a twin, and one of three siblings. Most experiences are heartwarming and uplifting; faith and friendship seem to create a mutual bond. Tearfully, Karen bid farewell to a stranger turned family friend. Admitting her sentimentality, Karen told me of the memento she gave him Ė a stone from his Hudson stopover Ė a souvenir he promised to return to her after "mission accomplished."
Ten years is a long time; 50,000 miles is a long walk. A world at peace may be a long way off. But Jean Beliveau is putting his feet where his heart is. Hey, you never know.
Email either Jean (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Luce, (email@example.com), or connect with www.geocities.com/marathon_monde for progress and pictures.