A Closer Walk

 In Books, Community, Duty, Faith, Family, Fred's Blog, Friendship, Gratitude, People

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.

More Posts
Showing 23 comments
  • Steve Haas
    Reply

    Your words this morning have left me with a great deal to ponder. Thank you.

    • Fred
      Reply

      Be careful about pondering! It’s been nothing but trouble for me.

    • Dana Goldberg
      Reply

      My fiancée and I often walk the beach. We will either smile or connect with a few words of greeting as others pass us, some respond, some do not. One of the many things I love about Grant (the fiancée) is ability to do this even when he is rebuffed, he has passed this on to me and now I do this when we are not together. A smile or a few kind words can make a difference in anyone’s day.

      • Fred
        Reply

        Thank you for this, Dana. I have found that same to be true. People are reluctant to take the initiative but it makes a difference.

  • Bob Lupton
    Reply

    How true, how true. Peggy and I read your reflection during our devotional time this morning and it really spoke to us…especially to me who always has to be engaged in a “meaningful” project. My identity is shaped around my performance rather than being a loving person. Can a leopard change its spots?

    • Fred
      Reply

      As we get older our spots fade…I hope! I am confident those who come behind us will more than make up for our learning that each stage of life has its challenges. Bob, you are such a good writer. You are probably the one who should be writing on this whole issue of how do we stay vital. John Gardner’s book, “Self-Renewal”, has been such a help for me. You could write that book for activists.

  • Brian Bollinger
    Reply

    Fred this reflection is one of profound resonance for my wife and me this morning. I’ll be sharing it with our staff today in our bi-monthly gathering. It is the very word we need. It reminds me of the Joan Chittister quote I was planning to share with them:

    “Prayer that is regular confounds both self-importance and the wiles of the world. It is so easy for good people to confuse their own work with the work of creation. It is so easy to come to believe that what we do is so much more important than what we are. It is so easy to simply get too busy to grow. It is so easy to commit ourselves to this century’s demand for product and action until the product consumes us and the actions exhaust us, and we can no longer even remember why we set out to do them in the first place.”

    Source: Wisdom Distilled from the Daily

    • Fred
      Reply

      Amen, Brian. We have so many good people like Eugene Peterson and others who have been telling us this for years. But, when you are growing something it is almost impossible to understand or, worse, put into practice. The older I get the more I understand this!

  • Ryan Frederick
    Reply

    Fred – I so appreciate your blogs.

    And, often times, it is not just getting caught up in the “more important”. In our age, the greater challenge may be to avoid the endless opportunities for distraction of the unimportant. It feels as though many of us crave these personal connections and sense of belonging but our prevailing culture (that we are likely abetting in some fashion) does not make space for it to the degree it should.

    I love this brief #eattogether video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDuA9OPyp6I – as an example of trying to overcome the unimportant to make space for those around you

    • Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Ryan. There is a price to be paid for not joining the rush to importance, isn’t there?

  • Tim Winn
    Reply

    Thanks, Fred, for your comments. My take is that everything is about glorifying God and blessing others in His name and for His sake. That blessing is often just being a friend and caring.

    • Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Tim. Some of us could have learned that earlier than we did. Maybe there really are some things that are reserved for age?

  • Beckham
    Reply

    A wise Pastor once counseled me to spend as much time with God as I could and then to “walk slowly among the people.” I believe he was encouraging me to take Nouewen’s path of presence. Bless you Fred for reminding us of the priority.

    • Fred
      Reply

      I think teaching Sunday School has forced me to do this as well. You cannot avoid the lives of people but “the illusion of intimacy” that plagues pastors, celebrities, and leaders of large organizations is real.

  • John Kelly
    Reply

    I am moved and though Marilyn may not have openly expressed it my sense is she probably was, too…by your simple presence.

    Thank you for this.

  • Bill Schambra
    Reply

    Fred, this is a wonderful and profound reflection. As you well know, those of us in the world of philanthropy too often don’t consider ourselves to be doing our jobs unless we design and fund large-scale, action-oriented, results-driven initiatives that will change many lives in a dramatic way. And yet when we do that, we too often sideline those who provide the quiet ministry of presence you describe here, meeting concrete and idiosyncratic human needs out of personal, loving acquaintance, and in a local, immediate, face-to-face way. If philanthropists truly appreciated what you say here, they would reorient their giving to build upon the local wisdom of those who walk among their own neighbors and know them as beloved friends, rather than as abstract units to be manipulated in social science experiments.

    • Fred
      Reply

      Bill – What an extraordinary comment and so appreciated. I wrote you offline to see if you would be interested in joining the “faculty” for the 2018 Gathering conference in Key Biscayne, Florida. I hope you will consider it.

  • Mark Neuenschwander
    Reply

    The ironic thing, Fred, is that you are a Marilyn kind of person. But like her, and probably anyone else that is that present kind of person, you don’t know it. Perhaps there is an insatiability to being present. There is only one who is ever present, but you seem to follow in His footsteps more than you think.

    • Fred
      Reply

      Stop it! I have a book Henri gave me after we had done a couple of things together that I passed on to my youngest daughter in case there was a major throwing away event when I’m gone.

  • Mary
    Reply

    Beautiful, Fred! Marilyn will treasure this blog forever…as shall I! Love visualizing you both walking your neighborhood and sharing your thoughts.

    • Fred
      Reply

      Thank you, Mary. As I mentioned, I did not talk with Marilyn before publishing this so I hope she is not upset and will not talk with me the next time we see each other walking.

  • Marilyn
    Reply

    I look forward to many walks with you. It was really delightful.

    I also find that it is a good time for talking with the Lord.

  • Margie
    Reply

    I like striking up conversation with people in the store, gas station, or just about anywhere, particularly if we are of a different race. It’s my opportunity to try to bridge a barrier they may feel exists between us, & to say that we’re all human beings who have the same needs & desires (to be loved, feel secure & be seen, as examples), and that I respect them as I’d want to be respected. And appreciated. 🙂

Leave a Comment