by Stephanie Saline
Sometimes, cars are too fast and even bicycles feel like rushing. Don’t get me wrong: the wheel is a remarkable invention. I’m glad I have it to thank for all sorts of transits and adventures.
But there are times when walking is the only way to go.
There’s something deeply satisfying about using your own two feet to traverse the planet. It’s travel at a human pace, for starters. Your eyes can take in the surroundings at a digestible speed. Philosophically, your body is no longer cargo — it once again becomes the vehicle.
I once had a teacher who talked about what he called ‘the mythology of comfort.’ We flip a light switch, and there’s electricity. We turn on the faucet, and there’s water. We hop in the car, and there’s our destination. All with very little effort, consideration, or exertion from us. The mythology is that this phenomenon is an unequivocal good thing.
But what’s the cost of that comfort?
When I go walking, I need to think about what I’m wearing — are these shoes going to give me blisters? Will this shirt get stinky? Do I need to bring my raincoat? And I need to pack my bag for serendipity. Water. Snacks. Sunglasses. Another layer. Suddenly, my day is no longer ordinary — I’m prepping for an encounter with the world.
Walking is slow enough that I can catch up with myself. How am I feeling? What am I thinking about? What do I need?
It’s active enough that I find my body again, too. I feel my breath. My muscles loosen up. My heart gets pumping.
I notice what the trees and birds are up to. I locate myself in the year and the season. I’m reminded of geography and the shape of the land. I remember that it’s a part of me, and I’m a part of it.
I’m no longer racing ahead to get some place — I’m back in the process of getting there. It’s the getting there that’s the pleasure. There’s a reason why walkers don’t get road rage.
Cars begin to look like metal bubbles of isolation. Each driver sets the temperature. Chooses the station. Looks straight ahead. Separates herself from the others.
Walking, I consent to show up for the day’s magic.
On a recent walk, three kiddos were waiting up on the corner for the school bus. There was an older girl and her two younger brothers, all of maybe five. She was leading them in the waiting-for-the-bus dance.
It was this beautiful, joyful scene, these kids dancing. I bust out smiling, seeing them.
And then they saw me smiling, and they starting running to me!
I turned around, thinking that maybe someone they knew was behind me, or maybe the bus.
But nope. Just me.
The girl stuck out her hand and said, “I’m Bernadette. I’ve seen you before. I was walking to the grocery store with my mother, and we saw you walking.”
I felt like royalty!
So I crouched down and stuck out my hand to the next dignitary in this impromptu receiving line. To greet one of the little boys.
“Hello, nice to meet you. What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Justin!”
“Hello,” I said to the second boy. “I’m Steph.”
“It’s great to meet you, Martin.”
And then the school bus showed up, they got on it, and I continued on my walk.
“Have a great day at school!” I called after them.
As the bus pulled away, I stopped and watched. I caught Martin’s eye and waved to him. He waved back.
None of this would have happened had I driven.