April 2, 2013

"You Know Exactly What To Do. There's No Need To Be Afraid. Keep Walking."

I had the carpets in the house cleaned today.  In July, it will be a year in this house but, with a toddler, two dogs, and my clumsy self the job needed to be done.  With all the furniture I could move into the dining area on a cold dreary day, I have been quarantined to my kitchen.  But it's been nice.  I've been productive lately while Maggie is in daycare.  We are both gearing up for the months ahead while I am in the dental assist program- both getting used to not being together 24/7.  It's heartbreaking for me, her not being here during the day.  On her first day at the CDC, I called Brian after a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking drop off and told him it is such an unnatural feeling to leave your child in the care of someone else.  Especially after two years of constant togetherness.
Back in my kitchen on the couch, I haven't done too much today.  But for the past few days I have had someone pop up in my mind, and today they showed back up on my blog reader out of nowhere.  Maybe because I drove to Lubbock last week is the reason I've been thinking about them and wondering how things are going.
It's been almost a year since I was driving westbound toward Clovis from landing in Lubbock earlier in the day.  With Maggie asleep in the backseat of a rented SUV, I saw something, someone on the side of the road.  Headed west as well, but on the side of the eastbound lane, was a man pushing a baby stroller.  My first instinct was, "What an idiot.  Who the heck would be pushing a baby in this heat!?  Especially on this road!"  As I drove nearer and eventually pass this person, I realized who it was.  Perhaps the sign hanging from the front of the stroller was a big indicator.  "Walking to Listen."  I knew exactly who he was.
While we were still in Germany, I was following along on a blog written by a woman in the South who had lost her husband.  One of her posts was about a guy named Andrew who she had past while driving down the road one day, too.  She wrote about their encounter and I started to follow his journey across America on his blog.  He was walking from Pennsylvania to California.  He was walking to listen to people and their stories.  While still being in Germany, I realized the route he was on would possibly and probably take him through Clovis.  I thought about ways I could perhaps get him set up for the night or just a dinner with the people I knew.  Maybe I could help, even though I wouldn't be there.
Fast forward back to driving down 84 almost into Muleshoe, when I saw him and realized who he was.  The first opportunity I had, I turned around and pulled off on the side of the road.  I get out of the car, but still behind the car door with a "you never know what could happen" kind of attitude and fear.  He is still walking but getting closer to me.  I yell out, "I know your blog!"  Never thought I would yell that on the side of the road to a stranger.  And I also never thought our paths would actually cross.  But they did.  We chatted for a short time on the side of the road of how I knew him, his blog, and about his journey.  We ended up exchanging information and making plans to meet up when he arrived to Clovis in a few days.  As I drove away and turned back westward, I called Brian.  He thought I was crazy.  And he also didn't really seem to be as excited or even as half as interested as I was.
A day or two later, Andrew texts or calls me and we agree to meet up at a truck stop where someone has already arranged for his lunch.  Brian, Maggie, and I load up and head toward the meeting point.  We exchange "Hellos" and everything else involved in meeting a complete stranger at a truck stop and settle down into a table.  He eats while me, Brian and Maggie sit across from him wondering, "What the heck has Sarah gotten us into.  But the conversation takes off.  Andrew asks questions.  Which he tells us he has somewhat grown accustomed to during his time walking.  To perhaps start the opening up process of people.
I had wondered what my, our (mine and Brian's), story would be before the lunch.  Did I even have a story?  And if I did, surely it was nothing of great importance.  At least not compared to the stories he had already heard.  He asked questions, Brian and I would answer.  Brian and I asked questions, he would answer.  Perhaps by me not opening up and telling him my timeline of life was my way of protecting myself from the possibility of judgement on this man's part.  I was protecting myself from his thoughts of not having a "cool enough" or "insightful enough" life.  Yes, I've had my share of joy and tragedy in life, but so does everyone.  Even him I'm sure.
His lunch was finished and he still had to walk to the motel room someone had reserved for him for the night.  Brian and I thought about offering him the couch in our little TLF room but, just that, TLF was tiny.  There was barely enough room for our family.  He takes a picture of us, which I have never seen since it was not posted to his blog, we discuss the possibility of maybe picking him up and taking him out to dinner, and then say our goodbyes.  He takes off walking and we take off driving.
I felt like an idiot leaving that truck stop.  But that's just who I am.  I over analyze everything.  I had said nothing of importance.  Brian is the opposite of me, though.  "It is what it is."  I can't tell you how many times I have heard that phrase come out of his mouth and me just want to smack him every time he says it to me.  Some times I just need to sulk in my own pity.  My family would probably be just a speck of dust passing by in the strong New Mexico wind to Andrew.  Gone.
A few hours later, we texted him asking if he would like to go get pizza with us for dinner.  He obliges and we pick him up from his room.  Now allowed to ride in a car since this wasn't his walking route.  We sit down at the fine establishment known as Pizza Hut.  (That's hilarious thinking back on now.  Why we decided on Pizza Hut, I don't know.)  Brian and Andrew share a pitcher of beer while Maggie and I enjoy water.  I would have loved a margarita at that point.  Perhaps I could have been less baby giraffe like?  The conversation flowed with questions.  Little stories would come up, but nothing of great awesomeness.
Dinner was consumed, a Sonic stop was made for milkshakes, then it was time to drop him back off at his motel room.  Another round of goodbyes was made with the possibility of meeting him on the side of the road when he was passing by the base the next morning on his way out of town and westward bound.
The next day, Brian met him just outside of the base.  We gave him a Cannon AFB t-shirt and Brian sent him on his way.  I'm sure that t-shirt is in a pile or box of every other t-shirt he received during his trek but, oh well.  It was the only thing we could really do.  "Here, have an Air Force shirt!" And that was it, the last we saw of him.  Now he was the one gone like a speck of dust in the wind.  

In September, he finally made it to California.  He did it.

Today, he posted a link to a radio segment/essay he has been working on.  At about an hour long, I figured I would give it a listen.  I had been quarantined to the kitchen so, why not?  At the end, I had tears flowing from my eyes.  What an awesome experience for him.  What an awesome experience for me and my family to be apart of his journey.  While we may not have been the most interesting story to listen to, we were still a part of it.
Every time I am headed to or from Lubbock, and pass the spot where I saw the crazy guy pushing a stroller, I smile.  Another event for my timeline of life.  And what a huge event added to his.

Go check out his blog.  It is not really updated any longer since the walk is finished.  But you can read through his entire journey, read why he started walking, see his route, and look at the pictures & videos he took throughout his way.  Also, listen to his segment.  It is long, but definitely food for thought.

Not entirely sure why I decided to finally write about this experience almost a year after the fact.  It just kind spilled out once I listened to his experience again.  Just like Andrew said at the end of his segment, "Sometimes I find myself forgetting everything the walk was for me, when I listen though, I remember. And then I forget again." I sometimes forget about that experience.  About how I put myself and my family out there for a complete stranger.  Then I'll remember when I pass that one spot on the side of the highway.  I am so glad I had the privilege of meeting and talking with him.  Though I may not have some inspiring story to tell, and I may not have told my story to Andrew, I have one.  It is mine.  I'm pretty darn proud of my story.  And I'm proud of Andrew for his new story.



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