There is a reason we don’t talk about “sidewalk rage”: It doesn’t exist, at least where I’ve lived. Like many people, I often get frustrated while driving in traffic. I also get upset on my bike if drivers don’t acknowledge the presence of bikers, even as drivers justifiably get frustrated with me on a bike if I do not follow the rules of the road. But the sidewalk? I honestly cannot remember a time when I was angry on the sidewalk. Even if I were frustrated before I started walking, the repetition of steps has a way of putting me at ease and clearing my mind.
Life is slower on the sidewalk—this is most definitely not “life in the fast lane”—but it’s also far less stressful. You don’t hear of someone complaining about how he was late because of sidewalk construction or a “sidewalk jam.” I may know that walking will be slower than another means of transportation, but if it is a route with which I am familiar, I can know almost to the exact minute how long it will take me, whereas other methods of getting around are subject to many potentially delaying variables.
I’m far more open to pleasant surprises and simple beauties while walking and am able to change my plans completely. I can actually stop and smell the roses. While driving, I’m likely not even to notice the roses. Or if I happen to see them, I then may need to turn around—far more difficult if there is traffic or if I’m on a one-way street—look for and probably pay for a parking spot and then walk around looking for the roses that I saw from the car window.
There are also many more opportunities on the sidewalk for making the world a better, kinder place. It’s impossible to strike up conversations with passing cars, and even if I try to smile at other drivers, they are unlikely to see me. These things, however, are normal on the sidewalk, at least in most of the places where I have lived. (I admit, however, that this isn’t necessarily the case everywhere; my smiles and pleasantries on the sidewalk have been returned with very confused looks in a few cities I have visited.)
Additionally, walking has a surprising number of parallels with the spiritual life.
At an initial glance, walking seems rather unproductive, similar in many ways to spending time in prayer. There are usually far faster modes of transportation. Additionally, if one walks for exercise, it initially appears to be less efficient than other types of exercise that will raise your heart rate much faster.
Scientists, however, are starting to see how intense exercise is not necessarily the secret to losing weight; one may then be more likely to chow down and be lazy during the rest of the day, whereas simply incorporating more walking into one’s daily routine might be more effective for reducing one’s waistline.
Analogously, one can look around and see how there’s a whole lot of work we need to do in the world—starting with ourselves and our families—and that prayer can initially seem like something that takes time away from the more important action.
Though I am not motivated by productivity in choosing to walk or pray, I might actually be far more productive when I do these things. Starting my day with a walk, rather than a traffic jam, even if the walk takes some time, is far more likely to put me in a relaxed state, ready to work. Prayer, while it might seem far less productive than active service, is likely the well that can sustain continued service over a long period of time.
More than this, walking, like prayer, makes me feel more like a human being, rather than a human doing. Sure, I could travel in a way that is far faster or spend my time producing more, but I often feel most liberated when I realize that I don’t always have to produce. I don’t always have to rush from place to place. I slowly learn with each step that life is not about efficiency or productivity.
People often ask me where I’m going during my evening stroll. “I’m just walking,” I often respond, at times to perplexed looks. It can seem like wasted time. Similarly, one of my favorite definitions of prayer is “wasting” time with God. The truth is, however, that time with God, or time in the pedestrian lane during which I’m able to appreciate God’s creation, is never really wasted time.