Nothing appears unusual in the photograph of a couple taken August 18, 2000, just before Jean Béliveau left Montreal to walk around the world. But the story of one man’s midlife journey and the patient wait of his partner, Luce Archambault, is anything but ordinary.
Most people whose businesses fail go through some sort of depression. When it happens during the middle years, we call it a mid-life crisis and struggle to set ourselves back upright. Béliveau is unique in turning his into an odyssey.
Archambault is unique in supporting his quest, with only once-yearly visits. As faithful as the Greek Penelope, she wrote regular newsletters, maintained the wwwalk.org site and fielded media questions the entire 11 years.
When 56-year-old Jean Béliveau reaches Montreal on October 16th , he will have worn out more than 4 dozen pairs of shoes walking over 75,000 km through 64 countries, carrying with him the dream of peace and freedom from violence for the children of the world.
Béliveau’s route took him south through the U.S., Central America, South America and then by air to South Africa. By that time he had worn out a buggy. The photo above shows him in South Africa with his new rig.
Even someone as adventurous as Béliveau found the long slog challenging. Four years into his sojourn, loneliness settled into Béliveau’s soul. Walking alone through Ethiopia’s sere landscape, he came close to abandoning his journey.
He found the inner strength to go on, and in December 2005 he left the African continent to begin his walk across western Europe, the U.K. and on into eastern Europe and the Middle East. From Iran he e-mailed Luce to tell her, “The famous hospitality that we allot to the Iranian people is not overrated! They are one of the most welcoming and warm-hearted people I have met so far.”
Béliveau still had thousands of miles ahead. His route took him through South Asia and into China, then through the island nations that lay between there and Australia. It was 2008 when he crossed from India into Nepal, where he was welcomed by a farming family (photo above) who offered him shelter.
The ambassador of peace was warmly welcomed all along the route. His hopes for a world safe for children resonated with people he met along the way.
Still, some parts of his trek took him through danger zones. By 2009 he was walking through the Philippines, a country where the government of Australia advises travelers to “exercise a high degree of caution.”
Police and army escorts took turns accompanying him along his route. On May 6th he wrote to Luce: “All these people looking after my safety are of an incredible kindness. I am not allowed to sleep in the homes of families anymore. I thus must spend my nights in Police Stations.”
By the time Béliveau reached Brisbane, Australia, he had worn out 45 pairs of shoes and inspired countless thousands of people who met or heard of his journey. Students in a secondary school he visited sent him touching messages, one of which said:
“Your hope and determination to walk the world for ‘Peace and non violence for the profit of the children of the world’ is an inspiring effort. To believe in yourself and have the courage to leave your family for 11 years only visiting once a year is amazing. There should be more people in the world like you.”
In late September 2010 he reached Port Arthur, his last stop in Australia before crossing to New Zealand to begin his 2,000 km walk through that country. Then in January 2011, well into the eleventh year of his World Wide Walk for Peace, he finally arrived in Canada, where Vancouver fans welcomed him home (photo above).
To be so close to home yet willing to keep walking for 10 months and thousands of kilometers must have required enormous grit and determination, in spite of the warm welcome offered him along the way. He was nearing the Rockies when Luce wrote, “Apart from very sore feet that he ignores by swallowing painkiller pills and telling himself that he only has to walk a few more thousands kilometers, he is in good condition mentally and physically.”
On October 16th Jean Béliveau will end his walk where it began, in Montreal. The video map of his journey looks impossible. There must have been many times during the past eleven years when even the vision of peace for the children must have seemed too distant a reason to walk through the pain and loneliness, even for someone welcomed wherever he went.
But Jean Béliveau persevered, and so did Luce Archambault. Béliveau carried his hopes for the world’s children every kilometer of the way. Archambault carried her hopes for his safe return every step he took. Now they begin a new story, their lives irrevocably changed by the World Wide Walk for Peace and Children.
All photos from WWWalk.org