Affirming the Inherent Worth and Dignity for Every Person...
THE WALKING TICKET
by Rex Myers, Powell, (c) WY, presented on March 9, 2008
I’m a walker. According to Webster, that means I move along on foot, without hesitation, without ceremony, promptly, without deliberation. No sooner did I look up that definition than I found myself taking issue with it. A person could take Henry David Thoreau’s perspective from his lecture/article entitled “Walking” where he calls sauntering a sort of crusade. A true walker is someone at home everywhere in the natural world. The person who confines herself or himself indoors is really homeless. As a parent and grandparent, I also see walking as that very unceremonious, hesitant, far from prompt, random movement of a child. Indeed, some of my most enjoyable walks have been ambling efforts with childlike pauses for beauty and attention to detail.
But I am ahead of myself. My topic this morning deals with walking. Officially, I’ve entitled it “The Walking Ticket.” A good historian (perhaps I should say a pragmatic one) always prefaces his remarks with a disclaimer. Here is mine. I am no expert when it comes to walking. Physiologically I understand the process in only the most elementary terms. Personally, I walk more than most; less than some. I walk to work, downtown every day for mail; my wife and I have a rule – we don’t eat out in Powell unless we walk to the restaurant. We hike on weekends whenever possible. So as a walker I’m both participant and observer.
Historically, walking is the oldest means of human transportation; sociologically, it is still the most common, most universal. Roget’s Thesaurus lists over sixty synonyms for walking, indicative of the breadth of such experience in life. The variety is interesting. When you walk you can trudge, strut, toddle, stride, file, amble. Whatever you do, it is good for you. Physicians disagree on the benefits of jogging, weight lifting, bicycling, and so on; but they are almost unanimous when it comes to the benefits of walking.
Walking is also one of the most exclusively personal experiences remaining in life. True, you can be assisted, my 89-year old mother has a walker, but no one can actually walk for you. Much as I would love to hasten my seven month old grandson’s efforts, he is going to have to do the walking when the time comes. The first step, or steps, will be from security to security – Mom to Dad, couch to chair, table leg to fall on a diapered bottom. It is a growing experience; one quite similar to life. In a figurative sense, we all walk through life from security to security – from womb to grave. How we do it, how we pass through life, gives substance to the diversity Roget found in his synonyms: do we trudge, toddle, strut, or amble through life?
There are some broader questions we need to ask ourselves. Do we, for example, believe enough in where we are going to walk? Many pioneers to and through Wyoming walked. There is an excellent diary kept by James Knox Polk Miller who decided to walk to the Montana gold fields. It took him many weeks and three pairs of boots. He believed his future lay in Montana and he walked to find it. Countless prospectors walked the hills of the West in search of precious metals, fortune and their futures. Perhaps no better example of pioneers walking to their future is found than in the Mormon handcart migration. If you want an exercise in walking commitment, visit Winter Quarters Museum north of Omaha, or the 6th Crossing Site at Sweetwater Station, put yourself into the traces of a handcart loaded with 400 pounds, and pull it. Would we share Mr. Miller’s or the Mormon desire to find a personal Zion, or a commitment to walk there today?
Unfortunately, I think not. In a recent survey of young men and women, pollsters found that 74% were simply enduring the present while waiting for something “good” to happen to them; something they hope is lying in wait for them out there in the future. Spiritual Powerball purchasers.
What’s lacking is a goal, or an objective, and the determination to work toward that end. It is as simple as the old Biblical phrase “seek and ye shall find.” I like the comparison between this and a wood burning stove. Can you imagine sitting in front of a cold stove saying to it, “give me heat and then I will give you wood.” It is amazing how many people are doing just that with their lives. Do we believe enough in where you are going to work – to walk – getting there?
The question is not one intended only for the Millennial generation. Gen X, Baby Boomers, do we believe enough in where we are gong to help someone along the way?
If you have learned to walk
A little more surefootedly than I,
Be patient with my stumbling then
And know that only as I do my best
May I achieve the goal for which
You bolder strive.
If your soul has gained an insight
And you a vision dimly see
Hold out your hand and point the way
And walk a mile with me.
Another question. Do we believe enough in the route we are taking to walk? We tend to want life to pass with the ease of interstate travel, yet I would submit that interstate driving is most restrictive: no stopping, no turns, no exits, no slowing down, nothing to see but green signs, dynamite sculptured vistas, and stereotyped, sterile rest areas. When we walk, we can pause, tarry, see the beauty of creation through which we are passing. I have never smelled fresh-cut hay, nor heard a bird or coyote sing, not felt dandelion fluff or cactus thorns, in an air conditioned car. The automobile, dirt bike, and snow machine are great ways to surprise or suppress, scare or scar nature; poor ways to see or experience it. Thoreau’s essay on walking, you may remember, is the piece where he suggests “Wildness is the preservation of the World.” He also advocates walking to that wildness.
In today’s world what I am suggesting is that we be a bit of a non-conformist; a walker through life, not a rider. Indeed, non-conformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals. In nature, only the strongest do not have to run with the herd to survive.
The whole realm of self-conceptualization is important. Remember when Moses led the Children of Israel to the border of the Promised Land? He sent a committee to scout the area. They came back and said “It is a good land. It flows with milk and honey. But there are giants in the land, and we are but grasshoppers in their sight and in our sight.” [Numbers 13:33] A lot of people today have developed this grasshopper philosophy of life. They feel unequal to it. We need to reemphasize the importance of people; of the personal aspects of life. And that’s not easy. Many things depreciate us and our sense of self-worth. Many things. Let me mention two.
One is machines. We have made more progress technologically in the last twenty-five years than the world made from the beginning of time to twenty-five years ago. And we have developed some marvelous machines/gadgets. But the thing that is happening in the United States and much of the world now appears to be the fact that we are being sold on the idea that mechanical values are more important than personal values. We are interested in buying all these bright, shiny things instead of building up inner personal qualities. One day something happens, and then we have nothing inside with which to meet it. Nothing mechanical or technological solves a personal crisis, mends a broken heart, lifts a burden of conscience. We have things; we lack inner strength. I do not think it is such a tribute to us that we are the most affluent people ever to exist on this earth, but we also take more tranquilizers than any people who ever existed; have more mental disturbances than any nation ever know.
A second thing I think depreciates us is our knowledge of the vastness of the universe. This translates into interesting social hyperbole. Unquestionably the size of the universe is beyond our comprehension, yet we see our own dot in this vastness – our resident spot on earth – shrinking constantly. Unfortunately, we are getting lost in an increasingly urban society. We can feel as cold, indifferent, impersonal, and as far away from friends and neighbors as the stars which twinkle at us from the edges of our universe. The cell phone, the blackberry, text messaging, MySpace give us a false sense of connectedness. We use them alone. How many people will you text next week? How many people are programmed into your cell-phone? How many people will you touch next week with your spirit, not your technology? “What is man,” the psalmists pondered, “that thou are mindful of him? Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels.” Thoreau chided us that “Nowadays almost all man’s improvements, so called … simply deform the landscape, and make it more and more tame and cheap.” Alas, we stand in the midst of a natural paradise, “angels going to and fro” among us, and seek to exploit or improve it.
Let’s hold that lofty concept of people – of ourselves – and not become depreciated by the vastness of the universe, the technology we posses to change it, nor the electronic web we’ve spun to artificially connect us. Are we connected to ourselves, to the spiritual world around and within, to whatever constitutes a soul? “What do you suppose will satisfy the soul,” Walt Whitman wondered in his Laws for Creation. “What do you suppose will satisfy the soul, except to walk free …”
Do we believe enough in where we are going to walk? Do we believe enough in the route we are taking to walk? Do we believe enough in ourselves and our spiritual or physical companions to walk? Amos [Chapt. 3, verse 3] focused on the last point: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”
It is funny, but I can ride someplace with people and never get to know them. Airplane, train, bus, car – I have traveled literally thousands of miles right next to a person and yet grown no closer by the end of the journey than at the start. I cannot say the same for those with whom I have walked. While I might not go so far as Amos and say I have agreed with everyone who has walked with me, there has existed a rapport, a sense of comradery, that is unique to this mode of transportation. Think about your own situation. With whom have you walked? With whom are you walking through life? With whom are you just riding?
In Wyoming and the great American West, many pioneers and settlers came by horseback, stage, wagon, riverboat, and rail. There existed, all the same, another form of transportation from which I want to draw some analogies. Had you come west in those early days, you could have purchased a walking ticket for your travel. This passage entitled you to walk along with the wagon train. You made the trip on your own effort, were free to leave or wander, yet in company with the wagons you found shelter from adversity, food and water, and companionship in the vastness that was (and is) the West.
I submit that you can still get a walking ticket. I have not
called any travel agent to confirm that and neither Google nor Wikipedia are of
any help. But spiritually, personally, a walking ticket is still available. It
guarantees the same: shelter from adversity, sustenance, companionship. How
much is such a ticket? Let me refer back to Thoreau for an answer: “No wealth
can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence” which come from
walking. They come only through the grace of the spirit; it requires “a direct
dispensation from heaven to become a walker.” Get a walking ticket. Don’t
ride through life attached to material things overwhelmed by vastness or life’s
giants. Your walk, however short or long, whatever the goal, will certainly not
depreciate your life. No, walking promises only to enrich the spirit. What do
YOU suppose will truly satisfy your soul, except to walk free?
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1858)
I think ‘tis the best of humanity that goes out to walk. In happy hours, I think all affairs may be wisely postponed for this walking. The conversation with Nature [is a] religious duty.
Individually now, let us postpone worldly affairs, and in meditation, walk with Nature.
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