Walking in Another’s Shoes

Article by Mary Be a Sullivan, Edited by Dee DeWitt


Lush, green, serene … Camp McDowell serves its purpose well as a soul-restoration location.


There’s only one drawback.  If you have mobility issues, walking from the cabins, to the meeting room or the dining hall can take a lot of energy.


These past few days I have been immersed in the beauty of “Camp” as a facilitator for “Heartsong,” an annual retreat for people with HIV/AIDS.  The retreat organizers were prepared, and borrowed church vans to shuttle folks from one location to another as needed.


One of the participants, I call him “George,” needed a walker and routinely would be the last to arrive at each activity.  George is a young man … too young for a walker.  And sometimes he didn’t want to take the van.


Yesterday morning, twelve of us were rocking on the back porch of one of the cabins for a workshop on practical spirituality.  Ten minutes into the program, George walked in and slumped down in his chair – exhausted from the journey down the hill.  We welcomed him and carried on with our discussion.


After a while, we pushed our rockers to the center of the porch so that we could practice a walking meditation together.  I shared with them a mantra from the desert mothers and fathers that Rev. Mary Earle taught me, “Love God, Love Neighbor.”  Taking my shoes off, I modeled a slow, mindful pace and explained that when one foot falls I say to myself, “Love God” and then I say “Love Neighbor” when the other foot lands.


Then I asked George if he would mind if we lined up behind him so he could lead us – and I would take up the rear.


He looked at me shocked, “Are you serious?  You want ME to be the leader?”


I replied that I did if it was OK with him, and that his natural pace would be the perfect speed for us to practice this meditation.  George beamed and we lined up behind him.


Every time George took a step we would here his walker pound against the wooden floorboard.  At first this seemed jarring … but soon it became a steady keeper of the beat – a sort of metronome for our mantra.  Birds chirping, wind blowing in the breeze and the steady “thump” of the walker, soothing sounds to encourage us to meld with the mantra, “Love God, Love Neighbor, Love God, Love Neighbor, Love, God, Love Neighbor…”


When we were finished, we pulled the rockers back into a circle, peacefully rocking back and forth in silence …


“May I say something?”  George asked.  “Sure” I said.  “Don’t take walking for granted.  I used to play ball, ran a very fast mile, I could get where I wanted to go.”  Then his eyes welled up with tears.  “I hate being last all the time.  I get real angry with having to use this walker.  I know I should see it as blessing, but I get real mad.”


The rest of us simply listened, from a different perspective after having walked at his pace.


What about you … is there something in your life you have had to let go of that you miss?  Is there someone in your life whose pace is frustrating you?  Could you walk with him or her at their pace?  Just for a little while?


The most valuable things in life are not measured in monetary terms. The really important things are not houses and lands, stocks and bonds, automobiles and real estate, but friendships, trust, confidence, empathy, mercy, love and faith.
-Bertrand Russell


Mary Bea Sullivan is the author of Dancing Naked Under the Moon – Uncovering the Wisdom Within, a compelling story about her pilgrimage toward wholeness.  She facilitates spiritual retreats and workshops for women’s groups and faith communities.  Mary Bea lives with her husband, Malcolm Marler, and their yellow (white really) lab, Daisy, on Smith Lake in Alabama. For more information about Mary Bea Sullivan and her work, please visit www.MaryBeaSullivan.com.


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Posted on 30 April, 2010 in Gratitude, Helping Others, Inspirational Stories
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