Years ago, when I was in college, I took a class that taught me some things about the mystery of the human brain. There are several things that I still remember, but alas, the name of the class has long since slipped from the memory of my mysterious brain.
One of the things that has stuck in my memory is about walking. I was taught that the human brain makes several million adjustments a second simply so we can stand and take a step and not fall. The poor forgotten professor taught us there are few physical actions human beings perform more complex than standing and walking, and it all begins with a step.
Our mind adjusts for balance, gravity, weight, speed, distance and pressure, and we do it without thinking. We do it as toddlers.
It is a marvel of the human brain, that first step, and without even knowing its mental significance for the child, we still celebrate it, record it, make it a milestone of growing up.
Then, after a few years of enjoying the sheer glory of those steps, we try to avoid it as much as possible.
Walking is a mystery.
A few years ago I decided that I needed to take more steps during the day, I decided I would stop finding the nearest spot in the parking lot, I would take the stairs more and the elevator less, and, most importantly, I would stop grumbling about having to take my dogs out for their daily walk. I was going to stretch and relax and walk and think and notice and have some quality canine time.
I usually walk the dogs in the morning at the Brown County Fairgrounds and, often, I am there alone with my dogs. There are several places where they can run and smell and find disgusting things to eat before I can get caught up to them, and it is a lovely way to pause in the middle of the day.
When people do show up with their dogs, I find I still walk alone. Most folks who come out there with their dogs just let them out of their vehicle and they slowly drive around the fairgrounds with the dogs running after the car, stopping to smell and stopping to do what dogs do.
I am not judgmental when people do this, it is what they do. Well, to be totally honest, when it is really, really cold out with wind chills way below zero, and I am walking in coveralls and huge gloves and big woolen cap, yeah, I feel a little superior, but mostly I just think it’s their way to do it and I’m glad their dogs get to run.
A part of me feels a bit sad though, not for the dogs who get to smell and run, but for the people in the cars who miss so much that could be experienced with a short walk around the fairgrounds. In the years with my dogs, I have come to appreciate the subtle marks of life moving from one season to another. I appreciate the crunch of the snow on the roads under my feet, and how that snow slowly becomes slush, and then dries.
I enjoy how the earth feels under my feet, hard as stone as I walk in winter and early spring, but then slowly, almost imperceptibly, it begins to give a bit as I walk, just a bit, telling me the land is thawing and spring has come.
The trees have their beautiful cycle of growth and hibernation and growth again; the grass grows, is cut, grows and is cut again and finally dies and then the land thaws and the grass grows and the grass is cut. I walk through all this in wonder and I am a part of this wonder and sometimes I grow and then am cut, and sometimes I am hard as stone and then softened, and sometimes I hibernate only to awaken to newness of life.
While my mysterious brain is contemplating these wonders, it is also making millions upon millions of computations just so I can stand upright and take each, beautiful, glorious step.
Now, lest you think I am a wandering mystic, forever lost in the glories of the world as I walk, there are also times when I simply trudge along, head down against the snow and wind chill, or sweating in the heat and humidity of summer. There are times when the most profound thought I have is wondering what I’ll make for dinner that night. This is walking as well.
Yet, there are those moments when all of it comes together and my heart, and sometimes my voice if I am alone at the fairgrounds, cries out the words of the psalmist, “…indeed, I am fearfully, wonderfully made.” (Ps. 139).
So is everything, and so is this crazy life I live, and so is yours; sometimes you just have to get out of the car to discover it. Sometimes you will just walk and get from place to place, and sometimes you will be aware that you do not walk alone, that the Lord who made you, fearfully, wonderfully, walks with you, even just across the parking lot.