So many of us drive, even for short distances. Is it a way of avoiding the world? What are the gifts of walking? Here is my short reverie on a walk across town.
My chiropractor’s office is a very short drive from my home – about 3-5 minutes or so. Since I wouldn’t have time for my usual routine of weights and yoga (or a morning hike), I decide, what the heck – why don’t I walk there?
I live in a suburban area that is a combination of quaint, middle-class residences, some larger, high-traffic streets, and a section of town filled with Latin-American restaurants and shops. It’s a pleasant blend of cultures, even if I’d rather live somewhere more immersed in nature. But I hesitate to walk through it. I don’t like being around cars, or on pavement and asphalt. How hypocritical, though, since I drive over it every day.
As I finish the short jaunt down my residential road and turn onto the larger street, I wonder what people would think. A middle-aged Caucasian woman, walking through a part of town in which you only see Latina mothers taking their children to school or Mexican gentlemen walking to work. Everyone else is insulated in their cars, driving by without interest in anything other than getting somewhere else.
I relish the experience. I want to look people in the eye, connect, smile, and say “buenos dias”. I want to see how it is to be on their turf and feel like the outsider. But also to see our common spirit within.
I also relish being outdoors, even if covered in a lot of pavement. No one else takes the time to stop and smell the remains of the night-blooming jasmine creeping over a fence, or to touch the soft, new, pale- green leaves of a vine – except me. They must think I’m crazy. I feel like the most sane person in Silicon Valley.
There’s a whole world that’s alive around us, and dead around us, too. No one seems to pay attention. They just drive by the candy wrappers and the crushed carton of chocolate milk that someone tossed in the gutter. No one else seems to care about the two weeds that resiliently grow between the cracks on the sidewalk. I do.
When I’m out of my car, I can hear the chickadees congregating in the maple tree above me as I amble by on the sidewalk. Life is everywhere here, in the wind tossing my disheveled hair, the surprising drizzle of rain as I cross the street. We rarely have rain in California this late in the season. I don’t care if my hair gets frizzy – I leave my hood down to feel it gently pelting my face and scalp.
When I’m walking, I see what others try to ignore. What I, admittedly, ignore most of the time. There’s pain here, there’s loss, there’s disconnection. As I walk through the underpass of the railroad tracks, a huge pile of junk reveals itself to me that had been hidden behind a wall, dividing the area from the street. A discarded mattress; an old cream-colored arm chair; a rusted bike that was missing a handle bar and a tire; and assorted shoes and trash, scattered about. From the side of the road, none of it is visible. But I’m walking, and it’s all there, revealing itself. Stolen? Thrown away? Things no longer wanted, what was once of value and now junk. Now, littering the town and in its ugliness telling other stories that the drivers don’t want to hear.
There are things happening here that we aren’t paying attention to. This is our world. We’re in it, but not really living in it. We’re so disconnected from it, we don’t know what’s really going on. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it only matters what is happening in our car, as we talk into our headset on our way to work or the mall. Maybe it doesn’t matter to see an old, run-down building with peeling paint as we drive by, or to smell the yellow roses growing near the curb.
But this is our world. If we continue to disconnect ourselves from it, what will the consequences be? Will we become so insulated that we won’t notice when our waters all turn gray from chemicals, when the only trees that remain are irrigated down the midline of the avenue? Will we disconnect so much that we won’t greet strangers anymore, and the only walking we do is from the parking lot to the automatic sliding door, or on a treadmill?
I hope not. I love to walk. And I love this world. Want to meet for a jaunt around the neighborhood?