I’ll take this a rather circuitous way – but you should be used to it by now.
I was given a book as a gift, for my latest birthday – Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Walk.
I always was a long-distance walker.
When I was a student I used to walk instead of taking a bus, to save the money and buy books, or records. Later, when I started driving (I was a late starter), I tried to keep walking, and recently, after years of inactivity, I picked up hiking again.
This, coupled with my long-standing interest in zen, made me really curious or reading that particular book.
And I found it very good – simple, down to earth, and filled with great intuitions.
And there’s a passage, in it, that goes like this…
Sometimes I say I walk for my mother or that my father is enjoying walking with me. I walk for my mother. I walk for my teacher. I walk for my students. Maybe your father never knew how to walk mindfully, enjoying every moment like that. So I do it for him and we both get the benefit.
I was touched deeply by this one because I read it about one month after my father passed away. And it touched me also because I had already done that – twenty-five years ago.
Six months or so before I left for London, my friend Alex died.
We had been friends since the first day of school – we sat at the same desk in school, and we became friends. We were very different, for character and temperament, but maybe that’s the reason why we got along so well.
We both loved the same things: comic books and TV series, and monster movies.
We both dreamed of going one day to London, that to us kids of the early ’70s was where Steed & Peel were, and The Persuaders, and Jason King and Sherlock Holmes.
So when six months after his motorbike crash I landed in London, to live, and work, and study there for one year, I knew I was there for my friend too.
We had spent twenty years fantasizing about this.
I used to dream about this town, like Supertramp sang.
Which is why, on weekends, after five days of work by day and university by night, instead of staying put to revise muy notes (like the guy I shared my apartment with did1), I just got out at six am, boarded a tube train, and got off at a random station, spending the rest of the day getting lost in the city.
Because I had to live that city for two people, not just for myself.
And Alex was there as I walked around, as I ate fish & chips or browsed the shelves of small libraries, comic book shops, record stores. Was there in museums and gardens and empty streets, and crowded streets too.
See, old mate? We’ve made it! We’re here!
I walked for my old friend, too2.
And as I grow old, the number of people I am walking for becomes larger.
The last one to join the slow marching band was my friend Michael R. Hudson.
And Michael’s passing made me think that I am not just walking for them.
I am also writing for them.
And eating, and reading good books, and watching movies.
This realization carries a certain sense of responsibility.
About what I do, about how I do it.
It requires attention, care, focus.
Because if I’m doing for others, then I can’t be sloppy, or careless, or less than the best.
Who knows, maybe this is what that old thing… adult, is all about.
Or maybe not.
- but I still think he just spent his weekends dozing off, and then acted all self-righteously outraged when I came home late at night. ↩
- incidentally, long weekends spent revising course notes made in the end a difference of two percentile points in the final exams, so there, see previous note to know what I think really happened. ↩