I walk a lot. I try to get up each morning and walk 4 miles around a nearby lake. When I’m traveling or on vacation, I’ll walk the beach or in a park. Not bad for a 61 year-old I suppose. I do it to stay physically fit but lately I find that it probably benefits my mental and spiritual fitness even more than my tired, old-ish body.
What I have discovered on my sunrise walks is that other walkers (and runners, and cyclists) aren’t likely to make eye contact. I know that we live in a world of fear; we’re afraid of terrorists; we’re afraid of violent crimes; we’re afraid of sexual predators; we’re afraid of identity theft; we’re afraid of yet-to-be-named diseases; we’re afraid of immigrants; we’re afraid of other religions; we’re afraid of other cultures; we’re afraid of people who don’t look (or act) like us. Some of these fears are legitimate; some I believe are heightened by political interests and hatred.
But I live (and walk) in the squeaky-clean suburbs. And there should really be very little to fear. My fellow walkers should certainly have no fear of me. I’m startled by the occasional bunny rabbit or squirrel that will dart across the trail. And I might cringe if I see a snake slither past or if a frog jumps out of the weeds but other people don’t make me afraid. And I will do no harm to them.
Recently I’ve tried to say “good morning” or “hello” to anyone who dares to make eye contact with me on my morning jaunts. The reactions and responses have been interesting. Some will offer a downcast or sideways glance with a feeble “hi”, as if to protect themselves from whatever evil may be lurking behind my benign-looking, grandfatherly exterior. Others look away quickly with no response at all. Some will actually return a friendly “good morning” or “hello”. The runners and joggers are usually very serious about their business, as if pausing for a quick glance might somehow throw off their body rhythms. The cyclists are often struggling to keep their balance or speed (or whatever) and seem incapable of the multi-tasking required to say anything while riding – I might get a nod. Older folks like myself are twice as likely to smile and acknowledge me. Young women (and perhaps rightly so) often avoid eye contact and stay focused on their exercise (and I suppose keep a ready hand on their can of mace). Young men are the least likely to speak or even look at me (probably dreading the likelihood that they might be staring at their futures).
Walking has given me the opportunity to S L OW D O W N and appreciate the sunrise. To thank God for creation. It helps me clear my head and prepare for my day. It allows me quiet time to pray and be thankful for this journey of life. I like to see the flowers (and weeds) along the trail. I enjoy seeing the squirrels and rabbits and frogs and yes, even the occasional snake. I would never notice those things while driving. But mostly I’m grateful for the few friendly human encounters I have each day.
Some of us who are regular walkers (or runners) have now also become regular “smilers” and “hello-ers”. I’d like to think that this ‘old man walking’ has had some small part in that. I’ll keep smiling and hello-ing. Who knows? The smile that I share might be the only smile that one of my fellow walkers will receive the entire day. Kindness given is always returned.
And none of us is a stranger to God.