As most did, I learned to walk at a young age. I never looked back. I’ve always loved walking.
“No, you guys go on ahead. I’ll walk.” To be sure, I took this for granted. Some whom I love have lost this ability to walk altogether.
The first piece of creative writing I ever did was in middle school and was about how I took long walks alone to clear my head, to deal with sadness, to sort out anger at my folks, to pretend that I was running away. I never did run away but I always walked to confront and understand myself.
A pencil drawing I did when I was a little older had two images of a guy–one was facing us, dancing in the rain, a foot off the ground, bare-chested, braided pigtails flying, an ecstatic smile on his face. The other guy was walking away, hunched over, hands in his pockets, with a heavy raincoat and a large hat covering his eyes, stoic and resigned. Of course, both guys were me. Both were afoot.
I’ve walked a lot. This is no heroic feat. We all have. I did not own a car until I was 26, so I walked. I hitch-hiked the length of the West Coast several times, which is thumb-walking. Living in West Hollywood I walked back and forth to my job. I once walked the length of Wilshire Boulevard for the experience of it, from downtown to the Santa Monica pier, stopping near Fairfax for a bagel and a schmear.
We walked a week in Glacier Peak Wilderness, and I read Report to Greco by candlelight in the tent at night. When we came out, a hitchhiker we picked up told us Nixon had resigned. We didn’t believe him.
We walked fifty-five miles over Bishop’s Pass, down through Evolution Valley and up Piute Pass, exiting at North Lake. I left part of myself on the trail that week and felt like a cloud for days after.
In my fifties I climbed most of the peaks west of us–Arapahoe, Pawnee, Paiute, Sawtooth–leaving home in the early morning dark in order to descend before noon and dodge the lightning storms at 13,000 feet.
Twice I walked the length of Nanjing Lu in Shanghai, from Jing’an through People’s Park to the Huangpu River and the Bund, stopping for pijiu, noodles, and bao.
In Zen practice we walk kinhin, as slowly as our breath, feeling each footfall and noticing each metatarsal do its part, adding nothing extra.
Walking has always felt like security for me, walking and the ability to carry on my back what I needed to survive indefinitely. I could always slip off into the dark and be miles away in the desert or the mountains before anyone noticed, leaving no clues as to which direction I went.
But to borrow Joan’s line. “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” Due to several conditions, my walking has been curtailed lately and will likely not return. I walk around the house with a stick, careful not to tumble, but the mailbox 400 yards down the dirt lane is out of the question.
This life phase is about letting go, about seeing what’s underneath when I lose this or that ability, and despite Dylan Thomas, it’s about going gently, but with my eyes open.
I don’t know if this is karmic, but I regularly am reminded of and relive my youthful impatience with my elders sixty years ago, judging myself as I drop a vitamin bottle, or fumble my door key, or forget what I was saying, or fall down. I’m asleep by nine and up at five and I don’t have a bucket list. I plan ahead before I stand up after sitting awhile. I’m content with all that and I know more is coming and more is going.
I notice those confined to wheelchairs and the aging Boomers of North Boulder, hobbling in and out of the little market with quiet determination and just one bag of groceries.
My arrogant and cerebral embrace of the notion of impermanence has leapt off the pages of the sutra and come alive, becoming tactile, like getting caught in a deluge without a slicker.
I’m grateful this is happening gradually. It will be sudden soon enough. But this way I can adjust and practice “yes” as my layers of image, conceit, and fantasy are peeled away. “Now, who are you? How about now?”
My hope is that when it’s time, I am awake enough that I can step forward on my own two feet and say, “Thank you.”