My dad died in 1990 at eighty-one.
At the wake (called a visitation where I come from), I stood in front of his casket and thought, “his time to walk the Earth is over.” I began to think about my death and pictured myself, there in that casket, an old man, and I was shaken by the inevitable thought that someday my time to walk the Earth will be over.
How do you want to walk the Earth?
I do not mean to conjure up platitudes about being a good person, or helping others, or being an agent of change, or anything you do outside yourself.
Picture your feet on the Earth, whether it is a sidewalk or gravel road or grassy meadow. You are walking, putting one foot on the ground and then the other. You get to do this for about four score years. After that, you will never again walk down the street and see people going about their business, or the traffic light changing or the flowers blooming in a meadow.
You will never walk into a coffee shop, smell the fragrance, and stand, with your legs shuffling impatiently waiting for the clerk to take your order. Never again will you walk into the sunshine and sit with your feet on the Earth while you sip your latte.
Your life of limitless exploration started when you took your first step as a child.
Walking this Earth has taken you everywhere you ever went. Even when a car, bus, plane, or boat intervened, you still had to walk on and off that car, bus, plane, or boat.
How often do you feel the weight of your body against the soles of your feet as you walk? How often do you walk until your feet are tired and sit to savor the aches in your legs? Those aches say you are alive.
Your time to walk will be over someday. With a little care and a bit of luck, you will walk to the place where your heart runs out of juice and your legs are too tired to stand one more time.
Then others will walk around the casket where you lie. They will look down on you; then walk away and talk with others. People will be walking around the room, perhaps talking about you, or perhaps about the new movie that came out. They might remark that you would have liked this movie.
How do you want to walk the Earth?
Do you want to walk it in a hurry or in fear of what is around the next corner?
You started walking as a child for the pure joy of being able to do it. Later you started walking with a purpose, to get somewhere. You sure got to a lot of places, didn’t you?
Now, your time to walk is over.
What if, when you are in that casket, a voice whispers in your ear, “I will give you one more hour to walk the Earth? Consider it a bonus. That’s one hour. Then you are right back here and that lid will close forever.”
Where would you walk? How would you walk? What would you look at? Would you pound your footfalls into the Earth to get every ounce of feeling you could get from it? Would your eyes burn to see each miracle they could see: a tree, a flower, two people holding hands, a dog wagging its tail, a child looking up at you with eyes that still see treasures in the everyday things of life?
How would you spend that hour walking? Would you revel in being alone to explore the same old world you ignored for fifty or sixty years? Would you walk hand-in-hand with that person you left behind, listening for the comforting clatter of their heals against the ground and feel the unbearable delight of the way their arm swings with your hand in cadence to your steps?
How would you walk the Earth if you had one more hour?
(Please let me figure that out before my time to walk is over.)
I hope I would walk boldly, my shoes clocking on the pavement, my shoulders in a confident and friendly swagger. I hope my face would greet the world with a “hey, it’s not that badass of a life grin.” I hope people seeing me walk that way would take a deep breath and feel the air in their lungs and be more grateful because they can walk the Earth.
I would say to them, “Stranger, I have to go now. My time to walk this Earth is over. I had a good walk. You have a good walk too.”
From “Are You Wishing Your Life Away?” by Charles Hughes (available November, 2012)