Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The End of Act I

          Right back where he started, the protagonist has encountered his first great obstacle: his body.  I drew this little picture of my home the night before I left, thinking this was the last time I'd be here for a while.  Little did I know I would be back the following morning.  So, here's what happened...
          On April 5th I was dropped off in Rockport and walked to Beverly.  By the end of the day, my knees were spent.  Upon waking up the next day, I was ready to walk again.  By the time I got to my front door in Stoneham, my knees were more than spent, they were in debt.  I had already planned to spend the next couple days at home so I rested my legs and said what I thought were my last goodbyes.  On sunday April 10th I felt 100% and walked to Concord.  Once I 

sat down on the shore of Walden Pond I didn't think I'd get back up again.  I spent the night anyway, stopped by Thoreau's cabin, or at least where it once was, drank some water from the pond and listened to the train that cuts through the woods every hour while I thought about what the Hell I'm going to do next.
          My mom picked me up in the morning.  I hobbled back to the other side of Walden through the light drizzle of rain.  I wasn't alone at the pond, there was already a cluster of people shoving out into rowboats and fishing at seven in the morning.  All those lucky people, nowhere more important to be, doing exactly what they want on a Monday morning.  If I had my way I would've been on my way to Harvard, MA, continuing my trip out West but, I took the advice from a good friend and listened to what my body was telling me: go back home.
          So, now what?  I've already said goodbye to everyone (just pretend I'm not here, friends!).  I've been planning this trip out for a long time now, I can't just give up on it.  I've been resting my legs, they feel better now.  I went to the doctor and he said everything looked fine but walking might not be the best thing for my knees.  I can dig it but, I'm definitely a little discouraged.  I've been walking around wearing my backpack for months to get ready and when the time came to leave I only made it 45 miles before my body told me to turn back.
          It's amazing how many banana peels I saw in those 45 miles.  I felt like the universe was speaking to me, confirming my thought that life is too short, telling me I was doing the right thing at the right time in the right place.  I certainly couldn't pass these peels off as mere coincidence after getting my tattoo right before I left.  Maybe this was all supposed to happen.  Maybe just doing this on foot was the wrong idea.

          The thought of taking my bike has entered my mind.  Originally I didn't want to have the burden of the bike in case something broke and I needed to fix it but, at this point fixing a bike would be a whole lot easier than fixing my legs if I wore them down to nothing.  This trip was never about walking, it was just about heading out West and seeing the country from a different perspective than a car or a train.  The important thing is to not give up on this idea I've had in my 

head.  I got this little bag from my friends at the Zen center with the all-important message, 'Never Give Up' written on it.  This little token seems extra important now and it reminds me of something Joan said the night I stayed in Beverly.  She said, 'There's no such thing as failures, just new discoveries.'  Nothing can be known until we try; I'm glad I found out I need to do something differently while I was still close to home.  I know something will work out but, until then I'll just enjoy being home for a little longer.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

First Night in the Zendo

         I arrived earlier than I expected.  Luckily, Kevin was there to open the door when I rang the bell.  "You must be Dan," he said.  I was expecting Joan, the woman I met once before when I visited last summer, who I had contacted a week before I showed up with my backpack and walking stick.  She owns and lives in the Marblehead Zen Center (located in Beverly, MA); a lovely home located one street over from the Atlantic Ocean.  I told her I was attempting to walk across the country and was hoping I could spend my first night at the center.  Her response in the email was, "absolutely!"
          Kevin invited me in and said I could put my things in the library.  He had so many questions about my trip but said he couldn't think of any now that I was there.  I told him to ask me anything when he remembered.  It was just before 5:00 in the afternoon.  After I changed out of my sweaty travel clothes, Jacqueline and Kevin were talking and laughing in the kitchen.  Jacqueline comes to the zen center a few days a week to do a yoga session for anyone interested; I was just in time.  Joan arrived shortly after and met us in the zendo for yoga.
      The next few hours were a blur.  Yoga lead right into meditation when we were joined by three others; one had been there before, the other two were newcomers to the center.  Joan spoke about the Zen meditation method, what the point of staring at the wall is.  "It's about leaving everything outside of the zendo; in here we have no roles, we are just conscious bodies being present, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable while being as unmoving as the wall."
          8:30 came around so quickly and I hadn't eaten dinner yet, I don't know how I was still standing.  Everyone was gone by this point except Kevin and me.  He has been living at the Zen center for a few months now and in a few months he'll be flying to California to stay in a monastery for an "indefinite amount of time".  He ate his vegetables and rice and I had a couple peanut butter sandwiches (he offered me his delicious food but I was content with the meal I will probably eating once or twice a day for the rest of the year) and we talked about the surreal situation we were both sitting in: staying in a house owned by an incredibly kind and caring woman, both of us just trying to figure out a way to live life that's different from the usual full-time job and starting a family and all the other distractions that don't appeal to either of us, both of us about to give in to some hefty commitments with no real plans for afterward.  Neither of us had roles, we were both just being present, almost like speaking to the wall and hearing the same words being echoed back.  
          Sleep never came so easily.  I wish I could've looked at some of the books in the library but, I couldn't keep my eyes open longer than I had to.  In the morning after meditation, Joan and Kevin and Mark (another member of the center) sent me off by chanting the Jizo Dharani, a sort of mantra recited to grant extra protection to travelers.  What more could you possibly want from your hosts?  Breakfast?  Well, they took care of that too after the chanting; oatmeal, apple sauce, toast and tea filled me up before heading out into the sunshine.

          Upon stepping out through the back door and onto the porch I was confronted by this sign: 'great is the matter / of birth and death / life is fleeting, gone GONE / awake, awake each one! / do not waste this life'.  Just like life, my stay at the zendo was brief and fleeting and I am gone, off to make something out of life!

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Unthinkable

          Not long ago I walked by a cemetery and saw an old woman standing in front of a grave.  She wasn't crying or saying anything outloud, just standing quietly, looking down at whoever was buried there.  It could've been anyone, her lover, her son, her own mother.  Death doesn't discriminate; you don't have to be old to die.  I wonder what she was silently saying to this person in the ground.  It might've been nothing, maybe she was just staring into the unknown, wondering.

          Death is a mystery.  Life is a mystery, too, although at times we think we've got it figured out and then death happens and life gets flipped upside-down.  I like to think it's all an illusion, smoke and mirrors, some combination of misinformation and misperception that makes us forget death is part of life, and out of death comes new life.  The metaphors are all around us: the birth and death of the day, the changing seasons, the brief and beautiful cycle of plants blooming each Spring.  For some reason, a lot of people have trouble seeing this cycle in terms of human life.  To many, death seems like an abrupt apathetic end to a beautiful performance that only happens once.
          Yesterday I was walking in the woods with a friend.  It was one of the windiest days I had seen in a while.  We were walking towards the edge of a lake when we came across this man and his dog standing next to a fallen tree in the middle of the path.  His dog was was picking up smaller branches and running around all excited.  The man was pretty excited, too.  He said the tree had fallen less than two minutes before we showed up.  He heard a tremendous crack in the midst of a strong gust of wind.  He looked up to see where the noise came from and was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the falling tree just in time for him and his dog to move out of the way.  When my friend and I arrived the smell of fresh pine hung in the air.  The tree looked like it had exploded, there were pine needles and splinters all over the path.  My friend and I could've stumbled upon this man crushed underneath the massive tree amongst all the debris but, today was not his day to die (or his dog's).  Tragedy was avoided and the man's near-death experience became a funny story for all of us and his dog was quite happy to play with all the broken branches from the fallen tree.
          Plenty of people are worried about me going on this trip – very excited but, also worried.  For my mom, it's almost like I'm going off to war.  She had me get a set of dog tags with my identity and emergency contact information on them. She even suggested I write up something so my money and possessions can be divvied up if the unthinkable happens; for lack of a better term, my last will and testament.  I joked with her and said I'd leave it all to our dog just like that Jimmy Buffet song but, she didn't laugh as hard as me.  I'm not poking fun at you, mom (I know you're reading this), it's just funny to think of walking across America as going into war.  Really, anything can happen at anytime, though.  You can get crushed by a tree on a windy day or you could slip on a banana peel and break your neck.  These shouldn't be reasons to be afraid, they should be reasons to embrace each day in this lifetime.

          I suppose I'm putting myself in a vulnerable situation, attempting to walk 3,300 miles with 35 pounds on my back like some slow-moving turtle.  But, there's a fine line between being excessively foolish and overly cautious and I think going for a walk is literally walking this line.  The adventure is worth the risk to me.  If America turns out to be a warzone and I end up getting killed in action then so it goes.  I sure hope I don't die out there but, that's something that's just out of my control.  If I die, I will die trying to live.