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Mishap brings resident New World View

By Betty Reid Soskin

Several weeks ago the simple act of yanking on a stubborn weed with my body in the wrong position created a new window on the world. It brought on muscle spasms the likes of which can only be compared to the legendary pain of childbirth. I kid you not. It was a screamer!

After a few every-other-day visits to a great chiropractor, things have returned to a relative "normal," but with a new twist (shouldn't even say the word!). Vertebrae kept slipping back into painful nonalignment until I began to follow the daily recommended routine of "walking." Yes, walking. This was going to be a challenge for one whose only regular exercise was climbing in and out of my little station wagon.

Then I thought of "Granny D" (New Hampshire's Doris Haddock), the 89-year-old elder who is walking across the USA at the rate of 10 miles a day in order to bring attention to the need for campaign reform legislation. This, despite chronic arthritis and emphysema plus the general hazards of the aging process. I could do this, right? And would you believe that I'm now up to 4 miles a day?

Walking has opened up an entirely new world for me. I take the path created for cyclists and walkers that is nestled under the BART tracks. It is quiet, travels along a small creek, looks into backyards, and is guaranteed to hold folks who take the time to greet one another with a smile as we wend our hapless way. There are balance beams, places to do push ups, to chin yourself, to try the bars, and even a wide space where one is apt to find neighbors practicing tai chi, together in silence -- haven't joined them yet -- but . . .

Best of all is that I'm having the feeling that the world I'm seeing from my new perspective is one that I haven't visited since childhood. It is the magical world of children. I seem to be tapping into things long forgotten; things not visible at 50 miles an hour, or even 25. Butterflies on wild anise, snails inching their way across leaves; an earthworm or two making their way through a muddy place beside the path; a bird bathing in the spray of a garden sprinkler. I've seen wildflowers and weeds I remember and loved at one time -- the ones that you pulled out and made into whistles; remember? I've seen cattails and fruit trees heavy with fruit. And each day there is something new, now that I'm aware of what I'm looking for.

And what goes on in one's head on the long walk -- remembering a friend of ours, from India and from the physics department at the university. I remember him speaking once, at dinner, about his country's practice of having the sons of the aristocracy spend one year of life (usually at the end of formal education) walking the country with a begging bowl. The culture demanded it of each. Perhaps it was Buddhism.

The thought occurred to me that the world, as seen from the perspective of "tiny print" is lost to us now. How one sees it from a car window is quite a different world. It is easy to understand how abstract we all become when viewed from a jet at 50,000 foot; all lines and zones and "targets" and "collateral damage". A walker could never see humanity in those terms, I think. But it gives some insight into just how easily our fighters can drop their devastating bombs from such distances, doesn't it?

Not sure where I'm going with this, but I find that the path along that seemingly dormant creekbed has led me to wish that a part of all military training might include "The Walk." Maybe we would be able to restore some of our humanity, and regain some of the innocence born of humility that the Buddhists have encouraged through this simple practice. And I'm wondering if the practice is still a part of their culture, or if it has disappeared in the process of becoming westernized? What a pity that would be. Find myself wondering if Ms. Haddock is making the same discovery as she wends her way across Arkansas toward Washington, D.C.? Maybe she was already aware of what is a precious rediscovery for me. Perhaps this is the underlying motivation for living out this "impossible dream" of attempting to change the course of history by her singular act of heroism.

Tennyrate, I seem to have developed a new world view. Wonder if the designers of that lovely path were aware of just how meaningful it might be to those who choose to slow the planet down a bit, move back into time and to re-enter the magical world of children.

Archived October 1999


Run dates: 1999-08-01 - 1999-09-01

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