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Friday, January 19, 2007

As less traveled as it gets

Why do we do the things we do? I wonder just how much of our lives comes down to doing what most of the herd does. I'm in favor of doing each of the following things, for example: brushing my teeth every day, wearing deodorant, owning a car and living in a nice, though not extravagant, home. I doubt that very many of us would seriously consider abandoning even one of those habits voluntarily.

I do all of those things (and have no plans to abandon them, especially the toothbrushing or the deodorant), but I do them primarily because I started doing what other people taught me to do. I didn't ask whether there might be advantages to doing things differently. Mark Creek-Water (pictured above) asks -- and answers -- that question every day:

Of course, how we lived was extravagant in Mark’s eyes. Some of us wore prescription sunglasses, for instance, where Mark chose to do without any eyewear even though he could not see clearly past fifty feet. We made personal purchases of toothbrushes, sunscreen, and deodorant, all of which he did without. We wore new, specialized walking clothing and shoes, where he wore only the clothes he found along the road or purchased second hand. We walked the country with an R.V. support vehicle and a fifteen passenger van to shuttle guest walkers. While he readily made use of these, he would have been content without them...

Despite Mark’s idiosyncrasies, we learned to appreciate deeply the pleasure he derives from the simplest of things. A crusty piece of two-day-old bread here, a gurgling creek there; a change in wind direction, an old wrench by the side of the road, a new moon, a few pieces of discarded paper with nothing written on the back which he could use for a new pamphlet, the kindness of someone who made him photocopies of his pamphlet for free...

Even though Mark walked a double shift for most of the journey, he was never in a hurry to finish walking for the day. The rest of us walked at 3-3.5 mph, thinking we were doing pretty well to slow down from our 65 mph lifestyles. Mark preferred to walk at 2-2.5 mph, and not because he was out of shape. “You miss too many things if you rush like that,” he’d say. “Slow down! What’s your hurry? Look, there’s a creek up ahead. I’m going to check it out.” He would stop for fifteen or twenty minutes, jogging afterwards to catch up with us (his thin legs are amazingly strong!) or he would accept a ride from Ray as he passed by in the R.V.

This passage is from a to-be-published book called Asphalt Jesus by author Eric Elnes, who participated in CrossWalk America last year. This emerging Christian movement is dedicated to making Christianity more compassionate and just by encouraging others to love God, neighbor and self fully. Mark Creek-Water is a 59-year-old “voluntarily houseless” man who decided to walk alongside Elnes and others who traversed the country to support their cause.

I don’t know whether I would be willing to walk in Creek-Water’s shoes for longer than a few days (if that long), but I wonder whether I would be happier and more fulfilled if I did. I think I know the answer, and that answer begs the question: Why not follow this example? Maybe the simple answer is that I am unwilling to change that dramatically, but I can’t help but admire this approach to life. If we all walked along even 10 percent of Mr. Creek-Water’s path, the world would be a more peaceful and more pleasant place to live. This raises another question, too: What 10 percent could I take from this heartwarming and remarkable example to instill in my own daily life? I don’t know yet, but I am already thinking about it. I may not follow the letter of this example, but I am inspired by its spirit.

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