I was born into a family of walkers. We walk out of necessity; we walk for pleasure. We walk in the winter; we walk in the summer. In the city or in the countryside. Uphill. Downhill. You get the idea.
When my grandpa was ailing in a nursing home, my grandma would trek on foot across town—perhaps a two-hour walk round trip—to visit him every day. She'd pull weeds out of sidewalk cracks along the way and identify every tree she walked by. Some of my earliest memories of my dad involve him walking me to school, encouraging me to walk with my feet straight, "not pigeon-toed". He taught me to stay a foot away from the curb, to look both ways before crossing the street, and that car ownership is a privilege, not a right or (in most cases) a necessity. Growing up, we did a lot of walking.
Now I realize that walking is the embodiment of values we hold dear, such as simplicity, thrift, health-consciousness, and enjoyment of creation. I learned that going places on foot
offers an independance that relying on other modes of
transportation does not. As I created my own adult life, living walkable distances from work and chu'rch was a priority for me. It relaxes me, and it satisfies my inner thrift-er. Walking has been healthy for my relationships and my thought life. On city sidewalks and wooded trails, I have shared many a deep conversation with a close friend, or with my Father. So, blame it on nature or nurture, but walking is one of my favourite simple pleasures.
Walking in my new city, though, is not for the faint of heart. It is less simple, and less pleasurable. Because of heat, dust, noise, safety precautions and my tendency to be tardy, I rarely walk to work. Though it is only a fifteen minute walk from door to door, I hire a cheap auto to take me the distance. If I want to go for a stroll, I do so in the evenings inside my gated complex.
But a few nights ago, I chose to walk to my friends' complex around dusk. I wrapped my scarf tightly over my hair, eyes alert for oncoming vehicles. I walked past the corner where the autos-for-hire wait...and perhaps to their surprise, did not hail any of them. On my walk, I saw three giggling girls sitting in the dust, sharing a snack. I looked into open shanty huts lining a vacant lot. I surveyed the rows and rows of simple white apartments rising from a paved slab where children play games and cows roam free. I stepped around assorted rubbish, lying loose next to the road. I walked through the real lives of fellow humans who live only meters from my gate. That evening, I remembered again why walking is good for me. When I walk, I see. When I see, I think.
I need to walk sometimes, so that I learn about life outside the walls of my complex, the walls of my auto, and the walls of my air-conditioned office. Walking affords me extra moments to take in the texture of the simple bed frames used by the shanty-dwellers. To see the golden earrings on the giggling child. To smell deep-frying oil or the sweetness of chai. To think about life on a road that divides the maids from the maid owners, and the cow milkers from the milk buyers. Rebecca Solnit writes, “Walking shares with making and working that crucial element of
engagement of the body and the mind with the world...." Walking forces me to ponder life.
Walking in this neighbourhood reminds me of the tension I often feel between (1) feeling the pain of the needy, and (2) enjoying what the Father has given to me. How do I strike the balance between giving to the poor without feeling guilty in enjoying a fuller life than they? Sincere followers have disagreed on this topic, some living as ascetics and others enjoying fine dining every weeknight. Each individual is responsible to seek the the Father's perspective and respond to the conviction given through His Word and Spirit. But this I know: my heart should break with compassion for the poor, because His does. My heart should break for people who walk in darkness. Walking can be used of the Father to awaken a heart anesthetized by pleasure, greed, and the pride of life.
One night in April, I walked from the office to the auto drivers' corner—usually a short, semi-pleasant jaunt in the early evening. A strong wind was blowing, whipping up the sand and dust that rests on everything, throwing grit into my eyes. I fumbled for my sunglasses but was unable to find them. I tugged at the shawl on my head, urging it to protect me. Nothing really helped, I just had to bear the swirling sand until I reached my auto. Ideal walking conditions? Maybe for a camel. But even a stroll through a sandstorm is a trigger for thankfulness. This is why: if the walk were comfortable, the weather temperate, and the air clean, I might forget my purpose. But when the walk is difficult, hot and dusty, I have no choice but to remember why I am here. Why He came here. When I walk, I remember. When I walk, I am thankful.