Friday, December 2, 2011

Learning to Walk

It seems like when I was a kid I always had my eyes trained to the ground when I was walking. Maybe a throwback from my toddler years, when it was necessary to be constantly scanning the terrain, lest some unexpected obstacle trip me up. Or maybe because I liked finding small objects and picking them up off the ground--a feather, a discarded air freshener, a comb.

But I remember sometime when I was a teenager I realized that looking down, just watching the pavement slip by beneath my feet meant keeping my spirit narrow and confined. There was a kind of fear attached to it--it took an effort--it took courage--it was a bold move, deciding to look up, to lift my eyes to the trees, the sky, the horizon.

At that time I walked--really, I slinked--around with stooped shoulders--like a criminal, terrified I could be apprehended at any moment. And what crimes had I committed? Well, when I was about seven years old, I drew on the wall beside my bed. Another time I was trying to make a tent by hanging a blanket over a yardstick, and it broke. But my real crime was that I existed at all.

I’m not sure I can explain that last sentence. I imagine some people will know immediately what I mean. Perhaps to those who don’t, it can’t really be explained. In any case, I was so used to slouching all the time, one day I tried to correct my posture, and found that standing up straight was actually painful. I don’t know how old I was. Maybe sixteen. That was scary.

Trying to remember to straighten my spine did not change my habit. Improving my posture has been a major project of my adult life--because the only thing that really helps is changing how I feel about myself. Only as I know myself and my worth do I walk with head held high, facing the world without shame and fear.

I have been learning to walk these many years. But recently I realized something else. I walk fast. So does Brandon. And we do a lot of walking, being “car-free.” We are efficient, impatient people, zipping from A to B, trying to get things done as quickly as possible.

I asked Brandon the other day why we should tire ourselves out like that. What if we stopped hating the “wasted” transportation time, what if we stopped the pressure and anxiety--it’s only we who’ve been oppressing ourselves, after all--what if we walked slowly? Walking could be restful, enjoyable, a time of quiet meditation, or enlivening conversation. It’s a cliché that every moment in life is precious, if only we would notice it. But it’s true. And time spent walking from A to B needn’t be wasted.

And if you want to see the kingdom of God, you must become like a little child, like a little child, still learning to walk ...

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