Around the corner from my office is a park with two ponds. And, on a mid-March day you can wear a light jacket, and the wind will cut through it on the far side of the ponds, where there are marbled shadows from the trees. On the other side is a hillock with clumps of rye grass and a few still-bare aspens; the sun is warm and there is no wind. Along the way, you’ll see a few cigarette butts and maybe an old Coke can, and geese with slender necks and black beaks that stand and watch you as you pass.
A couple will eat lunch on one of the benches near the hillock, talking with food in their mouths. Two young men will toss a yellow frisbee, which is bright in the stark spring light; the clouds are all at least 20 miles off, above the mountains.
You have these few minutes over your lunch break, away from screens and papers and meetings. You walk not for the physical exercise, though that is something, but for the sense you get from the walk. It’s a moment to stop, to be silent, to see the world around you.
If familiarity breeds contempt, then we must hate many of our days. The commutes to and from work, the same surroundings day after day. But familiarity is broken when we stop and take time to look, to notice the grove of aspens, the tawny grass, the tulips which have already broken through.
From Dr. Zhivago:
Lara walked along the tracks following a path worn by pilgrims and then turned into the fields. Here she stopped and, closing her eyes, took a deep breath of the flower-scented air of the broad expanse around her…For a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth the grasp the meaning of its wild enchantment and to call each thing by its right name…
If you’ve read or seen Into the Wild, the main character echoes the last thought. We are here to grasp the meaning of life’s wild enchantment and to call each thing by its right name.
That’s why you walk, and I walk, and it’s why we must–again and again–stop to ask what we are seeing and doing. We must take time away to practice this, but the real test is whether we can learn to call each thing by its name during our everyday lives, on our commutes and during our meetings, to stop and rediscover and rediscover and rediscover the beauty and wildness and even tragedy around us.