Monday, June 08, 2009

Walking the Walk

It is easy to possess simplistic (yes, simplistic and not merely simple) and sentimental notions and to take them seriously. For example, someone might hold dear the quaint idea that if we all had a front porch, life would be safer. We would be more of a community. We'd engage each other. Of course, that assumes that one could, and would, use that porch constructively, interacting with neighbors cordially, and so on (picture the opposite of the character Clint Eastwood plays, at least initially, in Gran Torino).

A similar notion, I've long felt, applies to square dancing. Yes, square dancing. Why? Because it permits, even encourages, a limited form of physical flirtation. Theoretically at least, square dancing allows one to experience the margins of marital infidelity or the borders of sexual experimentation or the contours of gender exploration, all within permissible realms. The thinking here is that if more people went square dancing, they'd get "it" out of their system; they'd find ways to sublimate carnal mischief, as it were.

Both of these quaint examples are clearly flawed, but, hey, that's what "simplistic" is all about.

My new simplistic notion is this: if we walked more, we would not only be more physically fit but also more mentally and spiritually fit. We would have better communities. I got this idea empirically on Saturday by walking to Wegmans from Tipperary Hill, about, oh, 1.5 miles each way. I could have driven, but it was pleasant and I did not mind spending the extra time needed to walk.

Walking, you discover lots of things.

You find out first-hand and close-up whether you live in a walkable community.

You see where there are sidewalks, and where there are no sidewalks.

You see litter, nearly everywhere.

You see what it is like to live without a car or a bike or a bus.

You experience life at a different speed. (Read that again, s-l-o-w-l-y.)

You see things differently and you hear things differently.

You experience gratitude for the grace of being able to walk, or you see how difficult the terrain is for someone in a wheelchair.

And here's the simplistic and sentimental part: what if we required all our political candidates to walk in the places they serve, all by themselves? What would be the implications? What if people sentenced to community service had to walk and pick up litter (I know, there are at least two drawbacks to this: why make walking a punishment, and why not prevent littering to begin with?)?

What if we literally walked the walk?

What if we really did walk a mile in someone else's shoes, or at least trod their path?

This is not a liberal or conservative issue, neither left nor right.

I invite you to try walking.

I do not mean a little stroll in the park with your dog (as I try to do anyway nearly every day) or around a suburban cul-de-sac. No, I mean something like this: going to buy that milk or bread or cereal. Take a reusable cloth sack and walk to the grocery and back. Live in the country? Hmmmm, you probably do a lot of walking already. Live in the city, you probably do a lot of walking already.

But if you live in an exurb or suburb, you probably drive.


Tell me what you find.

What are the hurdles to walking?

And what are the rewards?

Just imagine if our communities made walking easier.

And how will we ever know how hard it is or how easy it is to walk in our communities if we don't try it for ourselves?


Mark Murphy said...


As a longtime walker, I appreciated your post.

Over the years I've learned at least two things: Always look behind you as well as both ways when you cross a street. (This might not help, though. Last year as I was about to cross a side street I was darn near run down by a kid from the nearby high school, who at least seemed to realize -- and with some compunction -- that he'd nearly mowed me down.)

Also, and not to sound like Andy Rooney, don't bicycles have bells on them anymore? Every so often someone zips past me on a bike on the sidewalk without warning. Although I'm resigned to the thought of eventually meeting my Maker, I'd like to think our respective schedules are way too full as it is.

I used to walk to work but learned not to do this on holidays. On one Labor Day, about 10 years ago, I was mugged one block away from our former workplace.....

Pawlie Kokonuts said...

Thanks for your comment. I thought of you regarding my post, thinking you know more about this empirically than I do. not sure what to make of your mugging. A) Was it related to the Labor Day Storm? B) Do muggers proliferate on holidays? C) Was your mugging the beginning of the end of the local newspaper empire as we knew it?

Mark Murphy said...

A) It wasn't related to the Labor Day Storm, which came a year or two later. (I was working the night that hit, by the way, and had one heck of a time getting home.
B) It isn't so much that muggers proliferate on holidays; it's just that it was a clear, sunny day and there was no one else around but the mugger and me -- no cars driving by, even. In short, no one to say, "Hey, stop mugging that guy!"
C) I don't think so, but who knows?