The sun was nigh fully set when I rolled up to the corner of Maryland and Harmon. I pressed the walk button, and waited on my bike for the green man to beckon me. I was alone and contemplating something, when I observed a lady crossing the road on my right. Like most ladies, she shone brightly against the blue-black night and walked with queenly authority. She held her head up high, and though taken aback by her majestic gait, I managed to unblock the sidewalk by awkwardly backing up. It was far less heroic than had I dashed out the opposite direction; but I comfort myself that it was heroic. In any case, my gallant act was recognized.
“Thank you,” she said, smiling and pressing the button. I squeaked out a “you’re welcome” or, worse, a “no problem.”
“You ride everyday?” she asked. I answered in the affirmative. “You ought to ride with a light. It’s very dangerous not to, and they are not that expensive.” I agreed, and shamefully explained I had forgotten it at home. “You’re lucky,” she continued. “Be thankful you aren’t disabled. I wish I could ride everyday.” As she spoke she stared off into the traffic and noise, and I furrowed my brow inquisitively. Surely, I thought, she is not referencing herself. She walks as well as any abled body I have seen. I nearly asked, rudely, why she couldn’t bike. Then, catching myself, I said the more sensible thing.
“Ah, but walking is better, I think. I’d rather walk.” As the words came out, I realized my hypocrisy, mounted on my bike.
“Well,” she countered, “walking is slower.”
“True,” I replied, “but, you know, God gave us feet.”
“This is true,” she said, still aloofly staring out. I nearly wept for the subtle reminder that a gaping and growing divide exists between me and the world. But yet I heard two words. “He did.” Then, I saw a very beautiful thing – a flash of light in the dark, a faint and happy smile forming across her face.
Nearly two weeks ago, I left the UNLV English building, now well after dusk. I fiddled with my lights, unlocked the beast, flung a leg over the seat, and mounted my way homeward. But something felt off. I did not go one whole revolution when I saw before me a young man. He stared as a deer in my Cyclops-light, frightened. He ambled to his right, but by then I was wobbling left. We shared ideas; he ambled left now and I countered his act with a right wobble. His fear cemented itself across brows, down to chin. But he outsmarted me. In what felt like minutes, our tussle quickly ceased. I re-wobbled left to remain mounted, and he, now mindful that I was wayward on my stallion, juked right yet kept left, strolling out of harm’s way. I then wheeled myself, dismounted, and checked the front tire.
Flat. Drat, I thought. Now I have to walk – hold it. I was nearly about to curse my circumstances but stopped just in time. I get to walk, I thought. With great passion, I grabbed the neck of my bike and slowly pattered my way home at the only pace my body has ever accepted: the pace of man.
“Come now,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “God gave you a foot for a reason. There’s a reason you weren’t given a wheel. There’s something about this motion.” I raised my hand and flapped it like a foot. The image recurs often, as I foot my way to work in the mornings or take an evening stroll at the park. The walk, unlike any other form of transportation, is the most reverent, the most humble. There is a good reason why we measure in feet. Because the size of the world is best understood by the way of our human propellers. Imagine a world in which all was measured by feet. It’s the most exact measurement because it is the most in tune with our flesh. To say, “I will travel five miles today” obscures what will actually occur. For that man will travel 26,400 feet. That is, he will travel 13,200 humans, for humans have two feet. Suddenly, I better recognize both my smallness and my potential. I am but one man, but I am capable of conquering so many more. Herein lies the secret to humility and courage. A man must be small to conquer. He must see the world for what it is to see how large he can grow.
Our bodies were obviously created for a specific pace, and that pace has become a sort of exaggeration. Walking exaggerates the world by merely existing in it. Wind might be more treacherous on a bike, but the walker endures it longer. Rain, sleet, snow are not mere nuisances but substances. The world suddenly becomes, not some passageway through which we travel, but an expansive and exotic room we enter. It is the least safe of spaces, for in it we control so little – noises, weather, humans. Yet for all its uncertainty, all its potential violence and lack of comfort, walking is the most peaceful form of transportation we know. In it we do the least amount of violence to our bodies, though we enter such a dangerous world.
I wonder if our souls were not made for a specific pace; if like our bodies, the soul longs for proper pacing. I often cry with Donne, “batter my heart, three personed God” or sigh with the psalmist, “how long, Oh, Lord?” Might I not instead say with Herbert
this soul doth span the world, and hang content
from either pole unto the center?
Might my soul, so fond of running, need but to learn to walk again?
I listened as the Rebels were getting hammered by Reno. Turning off the radio, I thought, I should go get swoll. Then, I thought further. My bike is out of commission, and the gym lies on the opposite side of campus, a healthy mile jaunt. Suddenly, working out took on new significance. The event swelled, and I realized, once again, my limits. Man cannot do all, for he was not created for such things.
I kicked off my slippers and put on some sneakers. The night was windy and chilly, but I did not mind too much. The sun was just setting to the southwest as I sauntered slowly. I listened to the wind push trash and men talk, huddle around a shopping cart. The cars were noisiest as I neared Maryland, but I crossed safely onto campus. UNLV is a type of sanctuary, for no cars are allowed. Men walk or bike or skateboard, and all is relatively peaceful, and safe. I’ve taken to listening to the sound of my shoes patter along the cement in the quiet, and I did so this evening. The patter of footsteps sound gigantic in silence. The echoes bounce off one another; our bodies become bows, the cement strings, and a steady rhythm of music reverberates around us. I made two quick stops at the English Department and Lied Library then headed down to the gym, one clop-clop at a time. It had been several days since I had lifted, and my body, mind, and soul were eager. I decided I would enjoy a full upper-body day, and I saw myself hoisting metal above my head and turning heads. I did mental crunches and curls and presses. I passed the bike racks and thought about how invigorating my walk was, how mentally prepared I was now, having covered such a great distance, having thought so deeply. I grabbed the door handle and pulled. Nothing happened. I tried the next door. Nothing. I saw the sign, read the words “closed,” and postponed my work out for another day.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
November 23, 26, 2016
Painting: “Breeze on a Cliff”
By Arthur Hopkins
Oil on canvas, 1910