“Every place is walkable, it’s just a matter of time.” This small bumper sticker caught my eye many years ago in a checkout line of a grocery store. I’ve often pondered the idea, wondering just how long it would take to go this or that distance – if I only allowed myself enough time.
|Walking hero Peace Pilgram|
I’m the granddaughter of a man who delivered mail on foot for 40 years. I grew up with stories of his work, and lots and lots of walks. Sometimes it was the bribe of getting to spend 25 cents for candy at the corner store that helped propel me down the sidewalk. Other times it was listening to his stories as he pushed the buggy that carried my younger siblings.
In my early 20’s I discovered a book about Peace Pilgrim. I found myself drawn to her stories of walking across the United States five times as a means of offering her example of simplicity and service to her fellow men. She vowed to keep walking until the world found peace. She became one of my big heroes. I’d read bits of her wisdom each day for years and years.
A new pdf version of her book, Peace Pilgram: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words is now available. Click here to download.
In my 30’s I became aware of the benefits and importance of walking for young children with my own children and my work as a kindergarten teacher. From that miraculous first step, children have a need to walk, right up there with eating, sleeping, warmth and love. Their small bodies are growing. Critical organs are developing. The rhythmic act of walking is salve for them… and adults as well. I found that children in my kindergarten class (3-6 year olds) could walk much farther than most adults think possible. We walked every day, through rain and blizzards, the works. We walked at their pace. Was there grumbling? Of course! But one has a pocket of tricks. Mostly a smile, a nod, an extended hand, then without a word, one foot in front of the other. Songs, repeated over and over became a mantra for our journey. Our modern lifestyle so often hinders this possibility for exercise, swapping good walking time for hours strapped into a car seat or stroller. I’d scream too! How wonderful if every child, every person had the blessing of daily walking.
Getting out the door is often the hardest part.
At 43, I ruptured a disc. The thought that I might never walk again was very, very scary. The surgeon smiled and said, “You’re fixed, now just don’t twist or bend.” I wondered just how my recovery would go. I was able to walk again, first to the house next door, then to the end of the block. Each small improvement felt like a great accomplishment.
By my mid 50’s, I reached a point of feeling that change was afoot. I couldn’t recommit 100% to my job and yet I didn’t have the slightest idea of what I would do. Upon the suggestion of my dear cousin, my path became clear. I would join pilgrims from all over the world, start in the French Pyrenees and walk to the city of Santiago, Spain, then on to the Atlantic Ocean. This walk, the Camino de Santiago, took me 6 ½ weeks. I walked by myself, but there were always other pilgrims somewhere near by.
Upon my return, I was often asked “tell me about your big walk.” I’d take a breath and try to assess how much time there would be to answer. Often, after only a minute or two, there would be an interruption and the subject would change. Could my story really be so uninteresting? I tried to formulate the “elevator answer” and found that it was impossible. How to distill all that I’d done? The inner journey was as rich as the outer. I had gotten the chance to know myself in a different context every day. That was a blessing. I had stepped out of my very familiar kindergarten world into the big world. New people came into my life every day, each with a greeting, some told me their story. There were days when I felt quite alone and had to reach into that pocket and tell myself I could have a pan de chocolat if I made it to the next town. Or sang, “I can walk 500 miles” over and over and over and… When I finally did arrive at the end of the pilgrimage in the grand old city of Santiago, an old gentleman standing on the side of the walk, looked at me, smiled, gave a nod and clapped his hands silently. My tears flowed! Someone had noticed.
I do have dreams of going back to Spain or finding somewhere else to walk. Cheryl Strayed, the WILD lady, impressed and intrigued me with the possibility of the Pacific Crest Trail. But on the Camino de Santiago my pack was a heavy one at 18 pounds. The PCT pack weight would be closer to 40-50 pounds. Makes my back hurt just thinking about it. I have just heard of a brand new pilgrimage in Colorado, the Camino de Crestone. It won’t have the history of Santiago’s 1200 years, but it does hail as the world’s first interfaith pilgrimage. That aspect pulls me.
Folks were impressed with my ability to walk great distances, but surely most of us are capable – it’s just a matter of time. What impresses me is someone like my awesome nephew Matt. He is one of the “not most of us.” His struggle with cerebral palsy from a near drowning accident at age 2 has made putting one foot in front of the other, a super challenging thing. Yet Mathew has taken on that challenge every day of his life. Three times he has done a 5k to raise money for kids in crisis. Check out Matthew Reardon Big Cardio 5k http://youtu.be/YvQvK8An8dg
Just this year, my dear friend had to turn in her driver’s license at age 79. With the challenge of a quickly diminishing memory, her level of anxiety, frustration and fear have increased. But I have marveled at how, when we walk in her neighborhood, her spirits lift and the stress she carries disappears. She takes great joy in noticing small things a bird, cloud formation, a daffodil peeking up through the ground. Nature is such a healer.
Not all, but some walks can be quiet and reflective. Another teacher of mine, Thich Nhat Hanh, speaks of the walking meditation, in his book: Your True Home. A means to bringing ourselves back to being present in the here and now: “…Therefore each step we take becomes a miracle. If you are able to walk like that, each step will be very nourishing and healing. You walk as if you kiss the earth with your feet. There is a lot of love in that practice of walking meditation.” I have a lot to learn with my walking, and plan to keep practicing.
So my tiny resolution for 2015, and the rest of my life ...keep on walking! And help someone else (young, old or impaired) get out to walk too! --Kathy Reardon, January 2015, Oregon