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A week ago, just after 7am, I was driving home in my minivan after having dropped my daughter off at the Middle School. I passed an 8th grade boy wearing a light pink hoodie and some awesomely in-style jeans. He was still a good 10-15 minute walk from the school, and was taking his own sweet time.
First I thought, “He’s going to be late!” Next I thought, “That poor kid. It’s starting to rain! I wonder what he would think if I tried to offer him a ride…” Then I thought, “No way. He’s too cool for that.” Because he was— way too cool. It was late, and raining, and still he walked with an I’m cool swagger, chin slightly lifted in nonchalance and eyes fixed dead center ahead of him. He only barely picked up the pace when the rain started falling.
You can learn a lot about a person by watching them walk.
During the pandemic my husband had an online video consultation with a woman from the local shoe store to help him find a good pair of running shoes that wouldn’t make his toenails fall off. In a short, ten minute meeting that included some instructions on where to set the camera, and then walking in a straight line — over FaceTime! — her trained and critical eye discerned the issues and solutions with my husband’s new running fascination.
When I was having severe lower back pain and went to visit a Physical Therapist, one of the very first things I had to do was walk up and down the hallway while my therapist watched. I was surprised to learn that the way I walked was partially to blame for my back pain!
People who are trained to look for specific things can learn much from a brief observation, but just about any of us would be able to see the obvious exhaustion of a pregnant woman aching to reach the park bench, or the stately, gregarious confidence of a politician crossing a stage. You could likely pick up on the wobble of an elderly gentleman gingerly crossing the parking lot, or the hunched shoulders and ducked head of a woman rushing out of a room to hide a wounded heart. When we pay attention, whole stories can be revealed.
What stories do we tell in our walking?
Years ago, I did not look like the average hiker exiting the trail after a week long backpacking trip. Lagging nearly an hour behind the rest of my group, I shuffled and scuffed my way past the last marker, barely lifting my feet. The combination of the heavy pack, the curvature of my spine, and the cheap-o, non-hiking boots I wore had done a number on my knees. I was not proud of it, but every last person could read my pain and exhaustion as I came off the mountain that day.
This is the exact opposite of my 11 year-old son who still runs most places instead of walking— unless of course he is jumping, or skipping. His buddy down the street runs past our house more often than he walks. It is a childhood thing. Their story is one of eager enjoyment, and getting to the next place quickly. They don’t want to miss out on one little ounce of fun. I can’t remember it, but I think this had to be true for me once too, right? It is the story of childhood effervescence.
Airports are obvious places to catch a few good stories while you wait for your next flight. At a glance you can tell if people are anxious, curious, angry, bored, or excited. It is evidenced in the way they tensely hustle, or pause at each souvenir shop and magazine rack, or growl at the slow movers in front of them, or trudge heavily toward their destination, or beam brightly at the crowd while gliding their sleek yellow roller bag down the aisle. There are stories everywhere.
Our feet and our bodies carry a story as much as our mouths do. We draw people in, we push them away, simply by way of our posture, our gait, our demeanor. We often reveal a lifetime of experience — both the bad and the good — in our hustles and shuffles, as do the people around us.
One very special thing about being a human is that the vast majority of us can walk upright on two feet. At the beginning of life it is a learning curve, and similarly so at the end of life. The arc in between is dotted with many different ways and reasons for walking the way we do, but we’re always on a journey, and the journey has much to communicate.
Scripturally speaking, we are prompted to “walk in God’s ways,” in both the Old Testament and the New. God created us to walk, and to live; walking a certain way, living a certain way. And, we have been shown a clear path in Christ’s own life and footsteps. How we walk is how we live, and we are called to do that according to God’s clear guidance in Christ.
It is surprising and beautiful, then, that when Christ became incarnate it was in the form of a baby who would have to learn like every other baby how to walk. Toddling. Stumbling. Exploring and grasping. Eventually, as an 11 year-old boy — he was running! And certainly, he was achy, and sore, and road-weary along the dusty, ancient paths. Yet, Jesus always walked faithfully, in order to show us the way.
Our stories are much less of a mystery than we think. Our paths are quite common. So, let’s watch for the stories out there, and be aware of those that we’re telling.