I have walked the streets of my neighborhood for thirteen years now, in all seasons, in all weather, with dogs, with people, and solitary treks on my own. It sometimes feels as though I could find my way around the cracked and uneven sidewalks by footstep braille if I needed to. That intimate knowledge of the places where the earth has pushed up parts of the concrete over time, the paw prints and initials embedded in the cement from years ago when sections of the walkway were replaced. There is a special character to a very old neighborhood, layers of time and generations of people giving it a fine patina. It is far from perfect here in the city, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I do a lot of thinking during my walks, especially since school began and I have been taking long strolls by myself at 5am. It is a different world at that early hour, and I rarely see anyone. I lose myself in my thoughts, and I am grateful that I know the path so well- when to really pay attention so that I don’t trip and fall. I don’t take the dogs with me….two black dogs and a klutzy woman in the dark are not a good combination. Yesterday, as I felt the first real stirrings of fall in the air, I thought about the broken path along my walk and how much it related to life. Sometimes out of the blue something goes awry; we find that something special to us, something important in our lives, turns out not to be what we thought it was. We come across a broken place, an obstruction in our path. We can be vigilant, looking for trouble ahead, keep our eyes cast down at the ground for safety, but we can also choose to keep our eyes to the sky, throwing ourselves into life wholeheartedly, without fear, facing the broken spots when they arise- and they will.
I don’t know which way is best, but I am at least learning to keep my eyes open, and to protect myself, gird my heart for when I experience disappointment and disillusionment. It comes down to knowing myself and trusting my gut when things just don’t feel right- I haven’t always been very good at that. I am someone who gives my heart and soul to people…often too trusting and too giving of myself. I don’t regret it, though, as I’d rather love too much and open myself up to whatever comes than to live a life closed off from true connection with people. In fact, I find that the older I get, the more I treasure those broken places in my path, as I never fail to learn and grow from them. The smooth and even parts are nice, but only those unexpected jagged places that cause us to stumble or fall truly challenge us to become better human beings. I’ll walk that path every time.