By Orlando R. Barone
Let’s take a walk.
We all know what that means. I am inviting you to go out with me, on foot, and the arriving is entirely secondary to the walking. It makes every bit as much sense to take a walk to the store as it does to take a walk around the block, right back to where we started.
Pope Francis is a big fan of walking. He said, “When you are walking, anything can happen.” It’s catching on, too. One of the most famous walks in the world, the Camino de Santiago in northwestern Spain, attracts more pilgrims than ever, and the 500-mile trek has existed for more than a thousand years.
I was there a few years ago — my wife’s family is from Galicia — and marveled at the mishmash of humanity ambling to the end point, the Cathedral of St. James.
Walking is an attention-getter. If your boss says, “Come to my office,” you sense something formal or instructive is about to be related. If, instead, the boss comes up to you and says, “Walk with me,” you might detect an imminent moment of intimacy, revelation, even vulnerability.
A walk is an empty thing. We fill it as we go. That squirrel crossing our path, grabbing an acorn and scurrying up a nearby tree could not have been planned. You simply encounter it, feel it, perhaps try to figure out a meaning for it.
Even walks with purpose have this quality of emptiness, a waiting container that will be filled by whatever stands in the path. A friend who attended a political march and rally was rocked, not by the affirmation of her reason for being there but by the overwhelming encounters with so many different people and passions.
A walk is also about the future. You may glance side to side, at your companion maybe, and you might even look back for a second, but your eyes are forced forward. Your orientation is toward where you are going, not where you are. In the Boy Scouts I sometimes took night hikes in which my only illumination was a measly flashlight trained on the ground directly in front of me. “It’s all you need,” Mr. McCusker would say, correctly.
Walking is a deceleration of life. I slow down to a walk; I don’t speed up to a walk. That means I am choosing to invest precious time and effort to the trip. It can be momentous. If I am walking the 10 miles to work instead of driving, I am doing something astonishing. If I commit to the 470-mile “Camino” across Spain or a portion of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, I am likely making a life-altering investment.
Walking is a shedding. Ask any college student about the care it takes to strut around campus all day, making sure that backpack is not too cumbersome. When you walk, you ask, seriously and not frivolously, “Do I really need to take this with me?”
It’s no wonder that many religions make walking sacred. The Hajj. The Kumano Kodo. The Camino de Santiago, the Stations of the Cross. One of the most revered speeches of our history, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, took place after a walk.
When we humans want to memorialize a cause or an event, as often as not we do it by walking — from the Thanksgiving Day parade to the Walk to Defeat ALS.
Ultimately, walking is a gift. To fully realize this, imagine a doctor saying you’ll never walk again, or helping a loved one rehab a knee replacement, or witnessing a child’s first step.
So, let’s take a walk, you and me. You’ll meet your future, squirrels and all. You’ll be fascinated, bored, excited, confused, exhausted, exhilarated, and, finally, at rest.
Anything can happen. Like life, for instance.
Orlando R. Barone is a writer in Doylestown, Pa. He wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send comments to email@example.com.