A Closer Walk
Marilyn and I often pass each other walking in the mornings. She comes out her front door and turns to the right going up the hill as I am coming down from my home. Sometimes we only wave and smile as I am always listening to something on headphones and distracted. Other times I stop and briefly ask how she is doing. She doesn’t have the same compulsion to make this time well spent with podcasts or NPR. She simply walks her course every morning in silence.
Her husband, Frank, died several years ago after a long bout with cancer and a host of other complications. Even though she now lives in their house by herself and many of her closest friends in the neighborhood have either died or moved to assisted living she is not alone. Her family has become closer than ever and she is the center of their attention. They have become “the everlasting arms” in her life.
This morning it looked like rain and I know her walk is shorter than mine so I asked if I could join her and while she said she welcomed the company I knew she was not needing it. Like I said, she is not alone.
As we walked past the houses in the neighborhood where our families have lived for decades, I began to understand why our neighbors next door jokingly call me a gypsy because even though I am resident and take part in all the celebrations and events, I am not present in the sense that Henri Nouwen describes it.
“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”
But Marilyn is about what Henri called “the first thing”, I believe. She is interested in people. She knows them by name. She knows about the friend with Parkinson’s and his wife with high blood pressure as we pass their house. She looks in on the widow on the other side of our house to see how she is. Marilyn knows how the neighborhood is changing with young families moving in as her friends leave and the new life delights her.
I went to Israel this year with a group who wanted to walk where Jesus walked. This morning I believe I did just that. It was not the trails of the Holy Land with thousands of pilgrims. It was not the Via Dolorosa or the road to Emmaus. However, for me it was Marilyn and I walking in the place we live and talking about the people we want to love.
Eugene Peterson says it right. “God’s great love and purposes for us are all worked out in messes in our kitchens and backyards, in storms and sins, blue skies, the daily work and dreams of our common lives. God works with us as we are and not as we should be or think we should be.”
Marilyn is a devout and loyal Methodist and as she walked back up the steps to her door and I turned to head home I thought about the words of John Wesley. “I look on all the world as my parish.” Not for me. Not this morning. It is much closer than that.