You’re walking. And you don’t always realize it
But you’re always falling
With each step, you fall forward slightly
And then catch yourself from falling.Laurie Anderson in Walking and Falling
Like most infants my twin daughters were about a year old when they started to walk. I remember those moments well, for they remain sacred to me. I was enjoying some mommy time, sitting on the floor with them while we snapped together large plastic beads. I made mine into a circle and placed it on Annie’s head like a crown. She was so delighted by this gift that she stood up and took a step, throwing her arms up as she did so and laughing with unrestrained joy. Her manner was no less victorious than an Olympic athlete crossing the finish line. I was witnessing something monumental, a new life stepping out into the world, onto the soccer field, down the aisle at graduation, and eventually out of my home, never out of my heart.
A few nights later I was awakened by a strange noise across the hallway in the nursery: Thump-thump-thump…Thump-thump-thump…Thump-thump-thump. I walked across the hall to find Leah, Annie’s twin sister, smiling triumphantly as she walked back and forth the length of her crib, reaching out to steady herself on the rail for support. Thus began a happy competition with her twin sister. She would not be outdone, not in the crib, not on the soccer field.
Standing upright and walking is so essential to our species that it is embodied in language. Sanskrit, one of the world’s oldest languages, uses the word gata for past tense, which literally means “that which we have walked.” The word for future is anagata, “that which we have not yet walked.” And best of all, pratyutpanna means “that which is directly in front of us.”
At some point over many miles of hiking through the years, it became apparent to me that this act of placing one foot in front of the other and moving forward is part of the immense satisfaction of the experience. I like the feel of my body in motion, my arms swinging, my feet touching the earth, each step a celebration. I like that these steps take me over mountain passes, along the river banks, across slick rock in canyon country, but I also like the rhythm of it. Each step is a prayer as my feet carry me into that world of “that which I have not yet walked.”
Like many of you, when I am having a difficult day I often go for a walk. Even if it is just around a city block, I always feel better afterwards, and on a good day, I feel like throwing my arms up in the air and laughing joyfully, as my daughter did forty-five years ago.
At such times we are re-enacting an ancient story when we climbed down from the trees, stood upright, and began our walk across the savannah, into the world, and eventually taking “one small step for man, one giant step for mankind” when we left footsteps on the moon. We are remembering “that which we have walked,” and yes, it is worth celebrating. Throw up your arms. Have a good time.