Saturday, February 29, 2020

Understanding Walt Whitman

I am no better than you; you are no better than the planets in your orbit; we are each other and compliment the world in which we live.

I am the young man who assembles the two bean burritos for your lunch every Thursday, hoping to never accidentally slice off the tip of my forefinger while cutting up onions for a mere 25 cents above minimum wage.

You are the mechanic who peers inside my car’s engine wondering just how long it’s been since I’ve had my oil changed. That long? Well, it’s a miracle this car is still on the road.

I am the grizzly, old school bus driver who works hard at ignoring the noise of confined children. I secretly wish I could be their age again, sitting in the back and making the younger kids giggle every time I belch another letter of the alphabet

You are the welder sitting behind the wheel of your pickup truck, tapping the steering wheel with your fingers, wondering when this school bus is ever going to get moving. You’re running late and can’t afford to lose your job. Oh, to be a student again, you think. Responsibilities? Get to class on time, eat lunch, play a bit of basketball, absorb the mysteries of history and math, maybe even dissect a frog or two. Those were good days.

I am the trash collector who is happy not to have to work in an office; but boy, sometimes this stuff really stinks.

You are the old fisherman stranded on a boat in the middle of the lake, frustrated that you forgot to refill the fuel tank, but thankful that your wife packed an extra sandwich and a cold beer.

We are the teachers who at times have trouble making our classes understand; the preachers who voice having the same problem; the dairy farmers who wake up with the stars; the police officers out on midnight patrol.

We are the homeless who stand on the street corner, holding signs for help; the activists standing on other street corners holding different signs; the grocery store cashiers who smile and say, “Have a great day,”; the other grocery store cashiers who keep looking at the clock.

We are the writers, the musicians, the artists and poets who bare our hearts and ask, “Was it good enough? You’re not just trying to be polite, are you?”; we are the cooks, the waiters, the gardeners and delivery people who think, “This may not be much, but I will do the best that I possibly can.”

We are alike and different; each a wondrous one-of-a-kind creature made of exactly the same ingredients; molded star dust destined to grow into ourselves, do our taxes, forget to take out the trash, eat too much ice cream, go on fad diets, tell long stories without noticing the glaze in our listener’s eyes, get sick, rewrite our wills leaving everything to charity (those relations shouldn’t have looked so eager for me to pass on), and then eventually die and decay into fertile dust, making way for new leaves of grass.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully understand the essence of Walt Whitman. But if he spoke truth when he wrote, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” then without doubt we all have a little bit of him inside us – a little bit that whispers in our ears: Be kind to those who are different, because they are us and we are them.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Taking a walk on the wild side

If you put on your best pair of walking shoes tomorrow morning and walked one mile every day for a year, you’d be in Memphis by next February, which isn’t very far at all, but I hear Graceland is worth visiting at least once, even if it’s just to say you’ve been.

Since it’s pretty easy to walk a mile in about 20 minutes, you’ll have plenty of time left during the rest of the day to set up a tent, eat a bowl of oatmeal, update your Face-a-Gram page – or, better yet, just walk another mile.

If you walked two miles every day for a year, you’d be 730 miles away in Knoxville, Tennessee – the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. You might want to bring a jacket. But whatever you do, don’t ask a local for directions to Fort Knox and its vaults full of gold bricks. You’ll end up looking like an idiot because it’s not in Knoxville. It’s in Kentucky. Go figure.

Walking two miles takes up only about 40 minutes of your time, so you might as well walk three miles and make it an hour.

If you walked three miles every day for a year, you’d be in Virginia, somewhere in the Shenandoah National Park, being ever so thankful you packed a pair of long johns along with that jacket. Oh, the countryside, the trees; the smell of wood smoke and cooking bacon. Why has it taken you so long to get here? Will you have enough willpower to go back home one day?

Walking for an hour gives you just enough time to do plenty of thinking – thinking about your goals, your dreams for the future. What books should I read that I haven’t read yet? Do I really have enough time left in my life to learn Norwegian? Should I repair the skylight or save up my money and buy a new motorcycle? Probably the best thing to do is walk another hour until you stumble upon the answers.

If you walked six miles a day for a year, you’d wake up on Day 365 in Malden, New Brunswick, just a few miles from the Confederation Bridge that leads to Prince Edward Island. I’ve never been to Prince Edward Island, but I read L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” and thought I’d like to go. 

Two hours of walking each and every day can melt away the tonnage you’ve gained over the years and years of sitting, eating, watching TV on the couch until you fell asleep and woke up just in time for a midnight snack that would hold you over until you really woke up, went to work, sat some more, ate some more, and gosh this is getting a bit wordy. But that’s what happens when you start taking long walks. You end up thinking in long sentences.

Imagine this: If you walked three hours a day for a year, you’d be somewhere in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean (if you could walk on water), so you might as well walk four hours a day and spend the night in a cozy bed and breakfast in Dublin. Of course, you’d have to answer a lot of questions like, “Where are you from?” Texas, you’d say. “How did you get here?” I walked. “Across the North Atlantic at this time of year?” It’s okay. I was wearing a jacket and long johns. “Why didn’t you just take a plane?” Good question.

If you walked almost every day for four years, you’d make it all the way around the world and wake up the next morning in your own bed wondering, “So, what do I do now?”

I have a suggestion. How about go for a bicycle ride?