The Journey of 10,000 Things
Genre: Biographical Drama
Logline: At a time when the world saw nothing but war, Mildred Norman, “the Peace Pilgrim”, will embark on a life-long journey to show the world that peace can be possible.
On July 6th, 1981 in Knox, Indiana, MILDRED NORMAN, a vigorous, gentle, and kind-hearted woman known as the “Peace Pilgrim” sits in a Knox bus station talking on a pay phone. She is being interviewed over the phone by WKVI radio station manager, TED HAYES, a rather detached yet inquisitive man. Ted is asking Mildred about her life and the events that led up to her choosing her now unusual lifestyle of living with only the barest of necessities and walking across the United States till the world learns “the way of peace”. Mildred begins recounting to Ted how different her life was before she realized the importance of peace.
In the year 1929 in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey Mildred is a freethinking and energetic young woman who embraces materialism and the flapper lifestyle. By day Mildred works as a secretary at the Renault Winery and by night she spends her money buying clothes, furniture, and partying with friends. At one of her parties, she meets a conventional, mild-mannered, and handsome businessman named STANLEY RYDER and, though they are strong opposites they develop a strong attraction and they begin a romantic relationship. In October the stock market crashes and Mildred is forced to curb some of her spending habits, though only slightly. She convinces Stanley that they should elope and they do.
Their marriage starts off very well but soon the chemistry between them begins to fade as their opposite natures collide. Stanley wants Mildred to be a stay-at-home wife and mother but Mildred emphatically refuses both. Stanley saves money and Mildred spends money. Stanley tells her to stop spending “we’re in a depression” he reminds her. After one of their most heated arguments, Mildred decides to get out and clear her head. She walks the street contemplating her empty feelings when she notices an undernourished, depression-stricken child in an alley. The child sits smiling as he plays with a tattered toy.
This disturbs Mildred deep inside and she walks out of the city into the woods, haunted by what she has seen. She replays the image of the child over and over again in her mind. She notes to herself how content the child was with just the one, tattered toy. Mildred realizes that her life has been suffocated by materialism and has lost its meaning. She vows to give her life to something more, walks back into the city, buys some food and a small toy, and gives them to the child. Back to the present day in Knox, Indiana, Ted continues his interview with Mildred. He asks her if her struggles were lessened after that.
“Not exactly” she says and she begins recalling what happened after her life-changing revelation. Mildred says nothing to Stanley about seeing the child or the thoughts that came to her in the woods. Stanley begins noticing the changes in her, but their opposite natures and strong wills continue to cause their relationship to unravel. Mildred and Stanley move to Philadelphia in hopes of finding better jobs and while there, Stanley receives a draft letter. Mildred urges him to conscientiously object but Stanley resolutely refuses and leaves for basic training. While he is away at war, Mildred throws herself into fighting for peace.
She energetically volunteers in helping the elderly and at various peace organizations. One day, Mildred receives a letter from Stanley. He says he has found someone else and wants a divorce. Crushed by the ending of her relationship, but determined to move forward, Grace throws herself into pursuing a life of peace. She moves into the Jane Addams House and becomes a lobbyist in Washington DC for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Mildred decides to get rid of all but a couple of pieces of clothing, adopts a vegetarian lifestyle, and commits to living on only ten dollars a week.
She also decides to get out into nature, joins a hiking club, and continues to simplify her life. She then takes the next big step and decides to literally walk out her commitment to peace and journeys along the Appalachian Trail. Back in the present, Ted, listening more receptively, asks Mildred what it was like living out in nature. Mildred laughs and replies that it was a challenge at times as she recalls life without a roof. She hurries through the woods, panting and sweating, with a small but aggressive black bear running behind her. Mildred stops in a clearing, grabs a large branch, and begins yelling and waving the branch wildly. The bear shrinks back and flees and Mildred puts the branch down in great relief. Though Mildred struggles to live with the few necessities she has with her, she adapts well and feels refreshment in the nature that surrounds her.
Mildred feels entirely at peace. Back in the WKVI studio Ted listens thoughtfully as she shares and recalls how her solitary experience led her to share her message of peace publicly. Mildred decides to walk nation-wide during the Korean War. She puts on a blue shirt with the words “peace pilgrim” across the front and begins walking from Pasadena, California to New York. She carries no money, food, or shelter and relies on the kindness of strangers to provide for her. She sleeps under bridges, in bus stations, and in fields. One night, after staying in a bus station, Mildred is arrested for vagrancy and for suspicion of being a communist. Back in the present time, Ted asks with sincere curiosity how she held onto her peace in that situation.
Mildred replies that peace can be the strongest when you are able to hold onto it no matter what you face. She thinks back to her time in jail. While in jail, Mildred becomes discouraged at first but learns to bloom where she’s planted and begins forming relationships with the other prisoners. The police soon discover Mildred’s innocence and release her. As she continues on in her cross-country trek, Mildred encounters people in all walks of life and whenever she can, she shares her message of peace with them. Mildred encounters all types of terrains and weather conditions. She now carries with her three petitions: one to bring peace for Korea, one requesting the forming of a national Peace Department, and the last one for the U.N. to ban firearms and military supplies across the globe and to seek prosperity instead.
As she walks, Mildred asks for signatures and she presents her petitions to the White House and the United Nations. Back in the present time, Ted remarks in wonder of the full life that Mildred has lived. She reminds Ted that it was just the beginning of her journey and she recalls the other journeys she took after that. For the next thirty years, Mildred makes multiple treks across the nation, even traveling to Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, and Mexico. Her fame spreads and she travels to each state capital and gives presentations at schools and churches and interviews at radio and TV stations about her mission to help people realize that peace is possible.
She also encounters hecklers and naysayers among her loyal supporters but many people continue to be captivated by the loving and inspirational person Mildred is. Back in the present at WKVI, Ted asks Mildred about how she felt about her critics and she responds in saying that though she was hurt by them, she knew that they needed “more love than most”. Ted pauses for a moment in amazement and admiration. He asks her about her recent Nobel Prize nomination and she humbly dismisses it saying “what matters to me is what I did for others”. Mildred and Ted wrap up the interview and Mildred is chauffeured to a speaking engagement.
As her driver rounds a sharp corner, an on-coming car crosses into the wrong lane and crashes head-on into Mildred’s car. A witness to the accident, TERRY BAU, runs out of his house and to the side of Mildred’s car, which has rolled over. His brother, TONY, calls 911 and Terry sits next to Mildred, who is severely injured. Terry tries to talk with Mildred, console her, and help her hold on, but she passes on in peace.
Mildred’s legacy lives on after her death as Ted interviews Terry and asks him about the accident. Terry shares what he witnessed that night and also how much Mildred had inspired him and impacted his life. He states that he believes in what she believed in and that he wants to carry on her legacy. Ted’s eyes well-up with tears as he sees how much Mildred has impacted the lives of those around her and his as well. Twenty-three years after Mildred’s death near his home, Terry and his wife erect a memorial pole in their yard to remind everyone who sees it about the legacy of the Peace Pilgrim.