“We move ahead into the vast unknown, metaphor by trembling metaphor.” Thomas Cleary
Lately, I have been thinking about walking to school when I was a child. We lived near the end of a long dead end street and to get to school I had to walk to the top and take a right and walk about three more blocks on some sidewalk which paralleled a busy neighborhood street. At age 5, the walk was interminable, now I could make it in 15 minutes, but at age five it seemed to me to take most of the morning. How my mother could trust that I was getting to school is beyond any memory I have. I suppose there were other kids who guided me and with whom I knew to keep up, but any real memory I have of that long walk is a remembrance of myself alone.
Kids did not get rides from their parents then and there was no bus for us, we were walkers and I had not yet mastered the two wheeled bike that sat patiently in the garage. We had plastic book bags with pink handles. No backpacks like they have now. This slow meandering unremembered walk of my very young youth is something I have been trying to conjure from my past. I was never afraid of the walk, I was only lazy and the thought of those miles in front of me to the school bored me to death. I was not even particularly aware of time. Was I ever late for school? Early? Who were the people that walked with me?
Walking that tiny stretch of neighborhood street became a constant in my youth. On warm summer evenings in high school, I slipped through the front door of my parents tiny ranch house to walk up and down, up and down the street, even at midnight. I was restless and full of ideas. I would walk and dream and write stories in my head to the beat of my own sneakered feet. I was oblivious to all but cars coming, when I would dodge bright headlights and make myself invisible while their owners passed, in a hurry to get home after late nights at the bars. I was not scared or unhappy, I was simply restless and wanted to move. I needed to fuel my late night imagination with cool air and stars. I wrote stories in my head. Vivid detailed fantasies of other lives I might lead or other people I might become.
Walking has been both myth and metaphor for me through the years. In college, on the shores of lake Michigan, I would come home after a night in the library, drop my backpack and begin to walk. Listening for the sounds of the lake reaching up over the rocky shore. Sorting through my day.
Walking for me in those earliest of years was never about physical exercise. It has been both flight and fantasy. It never occurred to me that I could walk for good health. It almost seemed to me that when I walked I was nobody, but that that was good. I could disappear from the folds of the earth for a few minutes. Capturing myself from above. Black stars, cool nights, and more than a thousand ideas to fuel me. I am sure the things that fueled me were about love. I had a hard time settling down to understand anything unless I was in the throes of unreciprocated love. When I had that excitement to hold onto, I walked and dreamed. It seemed love made me weightless and timeless and drifted with me through campus, lifted me up beyond the cold winds. These walks are the closest I have ever come to a lifelong dream of projecting myself out of body. The gift to look at myself from some astral plane—wings of angels tied to my back. I want an other’s perspective.
I have also been lucky to spend my professional career working on various college campuses. It is here near ivy covered walls and tree lined walk ways of Florida, Vermont and Indiana that I have felt most at home. Walking from one place to the next as I go from meeting to lunch to symposium. Enjoying the feel of swimming with youth as they make their ways through these beginnings of their adult life. I dream still. Not about love but about other things I love. My child, faraway places, a problem I am solving, how to fly, what to listen to if I should become invisible, who has the keys to the grail and how do I find it? Here, somewhere hidden in the brick and mortar of these holy places are my dreams. I enjoy especially coming to the campus after hours. When everyone has gone in and the place is silent. I am bothered by people who have created the boogeyman in places like this. Worries about dark spots and strangers. I am sorry they have to be out there and ruin our chances to experience the mysterious thrill of walking alone in these silent places: enjoying the ghosts that hang out between the stairwells and bronze plaques. Making us worry and install blue lights.
But still I walk to bring me comfort: stepping on cracks, greeting dogs, counting stairs, walking balanced on thin curbs, kicking the can, running my stick through a fence, watching for lost trinkets, enjoying the burst of buds in the spring and the green leaves of summer and the mantle of reds and oranges in the fall, dreaming, dreaming, dreaming...