This next is a personal essay, and, as such, it doesn’t need so much introduction. However, I do want to plead again, for all of you to comment. I am trying to grow as a writer, and this piece really stinks, so please help!
Well, it is a first draft, and mostly stream of thought, but I am tired of working on it, and I would like to know how many of my first instincts are right and how many off mark.
Thank you all for your help. You have such wonderful hearts, walked all over the world…
Long Walks, Great Talks
One of my favorite books has always been (well, always been since college) The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. It looks at a person’s spiritual Journey from the outside.
The protagonist, Larry, is on a quest to make sense of his life after being a pilot in WWI and having his life saved by a fellow soldier. The voice of the novel, not Larry, is sitting in a café with him, talking about his journey, and Larry says something peculiar.
“I like manual labor. Whenever I’ve got waterlogged with study, I’ve taken a spell of it and found it spiritually invigorating.”
That really struck me quite a bit. This is something that most have known throughout history. There is a common Zen adage that goes something like; no work for a day, no food for a day. I think that, aside from the obvious “food”, it could also mean that one gets spiritual sustenance. One builds the clear direct mind with which one can search out meaning, through this work.
I had known this for quite a while. Not directly, but I seem to be smarter than I often think, but stupid enough not to know it.
How have I known? I’ve always loved walks. Long walks.
The ones that leave you in a part of town you’ve never seen. Walks that make you look at your watch, realizing how late it is, and know that you have to walk just as far to get home as you had walked to get where you are. Walks that leave, in the best possible way, your breath intact for a conversation that gets to your heart better than you could have ever done sitting in one place.
With your legs moving, it distracts just enough for you not to feel as if you should be doing something, and walking gives you sights that seem to come from inside. Each tree, lit by a streetlamp, had popped out of a memory, something unfinished that comes back up, spilling out of your mouth, somehow becoming resolved by the silent attention given by those who listened.
These were the walks that I liked.
I say “were” the walks I liked because I don’t really have any opportunity to take them anymore. Life has become busy, and I can’t seem to find the time to walk, the time to talk, like that. I have to be up in the morning, or I don’t feel quite well, or I am in the middle of a really good show on Netflix with my wife.
Why haven’t I had chance to walk like that in so terribly long?
There must be a reason. Something that has given so much, created so many memories of deep moments with friends, and jokes that made me gasp for air from laughing; there must be a reason I don’t do it anymore, right?
Nope. There isn’t a good one.
Maybe that’s just how youth works itself out. But I would like to continue walking, as long as I can.
There was one particular walk, taken when I was a few years less close to “get your life sorted” than I am now, that I remember. One of my best friends was living in a house his cousin had bought for a marriage that was, rudely and unfairly, short-lived. It wasn’t a great house, but his cousin was slowly, and skillfully, remedying that.
Another of my best friends was there too. To tell the truth, there were a lot of people there, but I can’t really remember who, because the three of us left; My friends Kipp, Ange and myself. We were just going to step out for a walk.
During this time, Kipp was filming a movie with us all. He was someone who knew his dreams, and I was someone that loved to experience passion for art. This was, probably, the reason that we had gathered, but it’s hard to remember at this point. We just bristled with excitement for this movie, all movies made, movies yet to be made, and bristled with an excitement for life.
We must have started talking about some of the people that were gathered at the house we had left behind. It was easy to get started this way. We were walking away from that world, something just on the outside, and transitioning to something that had more depth.
This was always how the conversations started.
It was always pretty interesting to know who was doing what, and why. But the conversation would start to turn from there. Why was the question that did it.
I was once told, in my first philosophy class, that “why” was the most important question to ask. Not because “why” is particularly filled with content, but because it can be asked almost forever. And, even more importantly, when it is used to full effect, it eventually turns itself back onto you.
This is what we did. Asked the deepest “why” we could at the time.
This “why” would go on for hours. That night, we walked past schools, with playgrounds almost completely obscured by fog. We balanced on rail-road tracks. We paused to lean against an old building from our town’s industrial past, and then tried out our newfound (railroad built) balancing skills on the guardrail on the side of the road.
We all had our own questions, but we all cared about what the others had to say. There was no stated purpose for any of these walks, but it was just a time to connect. It was a time to get things straightened out.
Something of this has been lost for me recently. My life has become a parade of shoulds. How things should be, what I should be doing right now, and how many things should be done before I focus on what the heart needs. The focus, as one gets older, shifts to the practicalities of life and dreams diminish, and with them, passion for life.
This may be a common tragedy, but it is still a tragedy. Recently my life, yes the practicalities, have been troubling me. There are too many things up in the air, and there are too many opportunities to just put my head down, keep working, and forget all the incredible dreams I used to have. The longings that would work their way to the surface after an hour or two of walking.
It seems, at this point, that I should make a grand statement about life.
I could, you know. I’ve got ‘em stored in my head, and this story lends itself to a grand point about not losing that dreamy innocence of youth, even into old age. Practical things may work themselves out, and they may not, but what is a dream or two in between? Something for the heart?
See that was a good one.
Or, maybe, I should tell you all the content of the talk. Frankly, I can’t remember. If I could, I wouldn’t tell you anyway. When we took these walks, even though it wouldn’t have been hard to listen to us if someone had wanted, what we said was for those people, at that time, and no one else.
So, no, there isn’t great point I’m going to make. No revealing bit of information that I should probably give to make this a good bit of reading. There is just my own little reality, right now.
I miss these walks.
I miss these talks.
I miss my heart beating, passionately, through my chest just expecting life to be an adventure.
Order is overrated. And no service is done through the denial of your childlike wonder. People gravitate towards those who bring excitement, wonder, caring, and love to life. No one really wants to listen to someone talking about how they have seen it all and nothing really excites them anymore. People even less want to be that person, a person I fear I am becoming.
In writing this, I’ve had an urge to walk. Obvious I know. My wonderful wife obliged. It was a small walk, weaving in and out of streets so we weren’t so far from home if we got caught in rain. We talked, and our hearts started to open.
We disagree, we don’t have the same view of the world all the time, but it is good to talk. We have a great marriage, but we aren’t copies of each other, so there is friction.
However, that night, we were joking around, and I can’t remember us laughing so hard in a while.
Maybe we’ll walk again tonight.
Sheridan A. Smith
Walker of the World (a few short blocks from my house)