It seemed that every time I drove somewhere I saw him walking. It didn’t matter the weather. It could be blazing hot or freezing cold, and he always wore jeans and a t-shirt, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and if it was cold, a Carhartt jacket over his back. His hair was cut short, and he never wore a hat. In the winter his ears would look purplish red, and I had the urge to throw a sock cap out my window as I passed.
One day, when I was sitting at my desk at work, I saw a storm moving in. The sky to the north was black as cold steel, and the wind was picking up. I decided to cut out for lunch early to possibly avoid driving in the threatening pouring rain. As I drove toward home, the storm seemed to be gaining on me, and drops of rain started to tap on my windshield. As I crossed the bridge, I saw him, but instead of walking, this time he was running. I realized he was trying to outrun the storm, just like I was. But I had a car, cover, wheels to go fast, and I was already losing the race. There was no hope for him on foot.
Throwing caution to the wind, and letting good will guide me, I pulled up beside him and asked if he wanted a ride.
With eyebrows up and a shocked look on his face, he asked, “Me?” Then just as quickly, he answered, “Yeah! Want me in the front or back?”
I thought that was an odd question. I quickly imagined him in the back seat where I couldn’t see him and thought, “Yikes, I’d much rather have him in the front where I could see him.” Then I realized that it was kind of sad that he would even offer to ride in the back. I didn’t really answer him, but to my relief, he jumped in the front.
“My husband is probably going to kill me for picking up a stranger,” I laughed, “and it’s probably not the smartest thing to do, but I see you walking all the time, and I felt bad that you were trying to outrun the rain.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” he said. “I wouldn’t harm anyone. Yeah, I walk everywhere. My name is Phil Thomas.”
“Hi, Phil,” I answered back. “So you going to the bottom of Dilly Dally Road?”
“Yeah, that’s where my house is.” He didn’t seem a bit surprised that I knew where he was heading. But truly, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. He was always walking toward or away from that road. And Dilly Dally Road was the road that I lived on, so I am sure he had seen me passing by every day on my way to and from work.
The drive with him was less than five minutes by car, but he thanked me profusely. I have seen him walking since then. I threw up my arm and waved, but I didn’t stop to give him a ride. I didn’t want to start anything or give him the wrong idea. As I passed him, I thought how we all go whizzing by, in a hurry to get here or there, but he has only one speed..the speed his feet will carry him. I thought of all he must see, each flower, each tree, the bridges and the water passing under them. He hears the birds and the gurgling of the brooks. All the things that we are moving too fast to appreciate, he can absorb in his slow commute. I found myself almost envying this connection to the earth that he is privy to in his limited means. It felt so free.
Sometimes I think that life gets too complicated. Things that are so important to us may be nothing to other people who cannot fit them into their lives. Without transportation, I imagine life gets rather limited. And I am sure, to him, it is inconvenient. Even so, he has an excuse, a reason not to rush about, doing this and that. Stopping to smell the roses is a choice to him, one that can be made without much physical effort. He doesn’t need to find a place to stop and shift the car into park, he only needs to shift his attention.
Life sure seems to get hectic. If I had a dollar for every time I looked at my watch, I wouldn’t have to go to work. Slowing down takes a conscious effort. Letting go of all the options and obligations of life and just doing what must be done, so that I might move a little slower is something I have to do in order to maintain my sanity. Many people that I know don’t even realize they are running so fast that they are missing it. Maybe we should all have our transportation taken away for a while. Maybe then, we’d be forced to let go of the things that we make more important than enjoying life and Nature’s grace.