28 days of walking: day 9

desconocidoLast month, I walked one day of a seven-day (75-mile total) walk across the border of Mexico and into the Arizona desert. I was joining the Migrant Trail Walk, a walk that aims to witness, raise awareness of, and mourn the growing number of human deaths that are occurring in that desert every year (over 2600 since 2001, over 6000 since the early 1990s, and unfortunately numbers continue to grow).

A 7-day walk through the desert doesn’t necessarily “do” anything tangible to stop those deaths from happening, but it does bring awareness to the huge crisis (and to the humanity and the stories) that seems to be so invisible to much of this country; it brings people together who care about what is happening; and it focuses the walkers’ minds on what some referred to as “one step of grief, one step of hope.”

The night before the first day of walking, we talked in groups over a dinner of lasagna, fresh salad, and delicious cucumber water about our reasons for being there. The people in my group talked about many things that had brought them to that table, and to the week of walking. Some of the above reasons were mentioned, along with other motivations particular to each person.

The reason for walking that stood out to me the most, though, was given by an 80-year-old retired physician who could probably literally run circles around me at the track and then finish with a rigorous set of jumping jacks, a man who had done the arduous walk three times in previous years, and who would be in charge of the “health team” during the coming week’s blister-inducing journey through the heat and dry air of the desert.

He told us, “Yes, I’m walking for some of the same reasons as many of you. But this year, I’m also walking because I can – and I’m walking for those who can’t.”

He told us he knew he was lucky to be in the physical shape that he is at age 80, that he has friends and acquaintances who would love to be there, but are physically unable to do it (and others who couldn’t be there for other reasons). He was walking for those people as much as for any other reason. The people who couldn’t do it but wanted to – he would keep them in mind through the next seven days.

His answer made me realize, once again, how lucky I am to be able to do the things that I do – for many reasons.

Last November, when I faced a room full of men in a maximum security prison – men who were working to improve their lives, but may never be free to drive down a road or walk to the store on their own again – I realized how lucky I was to be driving from state to state on a journey that I had chosen.

My first reaction as I talked to them was to feel somewhat guilty sharing my stories about my travels when they were stuck in the same building day after day, with their every movement restricted by others – and they would be for years. But as their eyes lit up and they began to recount their own stories of road trips in their past and places they had loved, or as they asked me to tell them about the places I had been, I realized that there was a part of at least some of them that seemed to come alive vicariously as they listened to me talk about what I was doing.

In an odd way, my stories and my presence honored the freedom I have, and gave witness to the fact that I was making full use of my freedom; freedom they no longer had. They respected that, valued that in my actions. If they couldn’t take a road trip themselves, at least I wasn’t throwing away my own opportunity to do so.

I have thought of this freedom with a twinge of guilt at other times: My ability to cross borders so easily when others have to risk their lives to do so. My walking everyday when others can’t walk at all. My ability to go outside alone, when others are gated in because of health or age or abuse. My freedom of movement in so many aspects of my life is a privilege – one that I sometimes take for granted, but one that I value so highly.

I wish that everyone had these same freedoms and opportunities – physically, geographically, politically, culturally and socially. As I walk (and travel), I hold in my thoughts those who can’t, but wish they could.

Today (and everyday) I walk because I can. Today (and everyday) I walk for those who can’t.boboquivari peak

 

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