When I was in college at Lake Forest and looked forward to coming home for Christmas or summer break, I used to count my steps. There was a time I could tell you how many steps from the theater building on South Campus to my room in Deerpath Hall. I knew how many steps it took to walk to the beach or to Tim, my mentor's, office. My journal is filled with entries that said things like, "Five hundred steps to the train station today. How many steps 'til I'm home?" It brought me comfort and gave me something to look forward to, like marking off the days until Christmas. I forgot all about that until this afternoon when I realized I was going through the motions on my walk with Duncan. I hadn't been paying attention: I wasn't in the moment. I was asleep.
As much as Duncan may not like it, sometimes the walks aren't about him. Sometimes they're not even about me. Sometimes they're just about the walk and being awake.
It's easy to get used to the places we go, the people we see, even the sounds and sensations of our steps on the same sidewalks or the same soggy grass. It's easy to forget that the world is changing every moment and even though we've walked or driven or peddled the same route day after day, climbed the same stairs, parked in the same spot under that one precious, shade-yielding tree, that everything is different than the last time we were there.
The nights are cooler now–they have been for awhile. Even the days are cooler and the trees and grass are different every time I see them. The elms are done but don't know it; they hold on to their yellowing and browning leaves like houses hold on to ghosts. The grass isn't as soft, and it has a September sort of crunch to it under our feet. The people, still wearing shorts and t-shirts, have begun to tie sweaters around their waists, or they wear hoodies. They all look the same to me.
I don't want to go through my life a zombie, counting the days until the weekend and then Monday morning after that, or the hours left until I get to leave work. I want to absorb as much as I can, to not take anything for granted. It's a difficult task to stay awake and not switch over to autopilot. Sometimes you have to work hard to be present and notice the beauty all around you.
There's a line in American Beauty, one of my favorite films, that makes me weep for my old poet's eye: "It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it.... that's the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and... this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever... It helps me remember... and I need to remember... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in."
Who at the park today noticed the man and his grandson fishing from the bank where I sometimes let Dunc wade in after the ducks? Who stopped and spent ten minutes watching them cast and reel, cast and reel, the sun setting in front of them, the mountains and lake turning black before them? Will they even remember how thick the bugs were, or that the school marching band was practicing Tusk, that quintessential marching band song not a quarter of a mile away? Will this night fade for them or will they lock it up some place and keep it alive simply because they want to keep it alive?
I will remember this night because it was beautiful and made my heart want to cave in.