Like a great swath of humanity, I have been walking my way through this pandemic.
I began, back in our first lockdown nearly a year ago, walking out of desperation. Confined, with a roomate to our two-bedroom apartment, I worked, slept and retreated into my room, coming out only for meals and maybe an evening TV show. Even though it was March, dismal and cold, I would bundle myself up around 4 p.m. and shuffle around the block for fresh air and a change of scenery. I can’t pretend I actually enjoyed it. Had you asked, I would have said I never loved walking, could never understand those who spoke of the sheer joy of putting one foot in front of the other.
Now, nearly a year later and once again in lockdown, I am walking for and with joy – not so much for the physicality of movement, but for potential of everything I might encounter — both within and without me — while I walk.
“…in all these things, we discover over and over again the miracle of being pedestrian.” So writes Mark Buchanan in his new book, God Walk, Moving at the Speed of your Soul. (You’ll have to, and ought to, read the whole book to know what all things Buchanan is referring to.) That sentence literally stopped me in my tracks yesterday when I read it.
Pairing those two words — miracles and pedestrian — what a paradox. Miracles is such a marvelous word. It’s all about the unexpected, the unimaginable, of possibility exploding into reality. Pedestrian, on the other hand, is by its very definition, ordinary. Boring. Plain. Plodding is the synonym that surfaced in my mind without me even summoning it.
But I get it. Or,should I say, I’ve begun to get it, as I have been walking my way through this pandemic. I’m not quite there yet, but something is shifting in me as, walk after walk, I understand more deeply that walking — the setting of one foot in front of the other — needs to be ordinary, plain, rote, even, in order for all our other senses to be freed up to catch the miraculous. It’s as if our feet, legs, hips, arms and core muscles take on the servant task in order for the rest of our body — heart, mind and soul — to experience the gifts a walk has to offer us.
Yesterday, after reading those lines from Buchanan, I bundled myself up for a snowy walk in sub-zero temperatures. These days I walk for several reasons. Physical and mental health are the pedestrian motivations. But that’s not what truly propells me. Everytime I set out on my walks these days I go expecting something miraculous, something unimagined, something worth walking towards.
Yesterday I listened with wonder to the rush of great waves crashing against the shore of Lake Ontario while I stood on a tiny trail hedged in by tall grasses, straight tall and still. There was no wind in the small clearing I’d walked into. And yet there was wind just beyond my view. I marvelled as I stood there.
I walked on and spied a flash of blue in a tall spruce tree. Then another. Blue jays. I’ve been waiting to see them all winter. I know they are around and not necessarily uncommon. But while I’ve seen cardinals and chickadees, a glorious array of ducks, and — even, quite miraculously, three (yes three!) owls, I’d not seen any blue jays. Yesterday I spied two and loved the experience even more for its elusivity.
Today I will go for another walk. It will be pedestrian, for all walks are that. But it will be miraculous. The two words, I have learned, are very much in step with each other.