Like everyone, I learned to walk. No-one really remembers learning to walk, but nature always takes over. Babies soon learn that the world is a much more interesting and fruitful place when they explore it as a biped, leaving their arms and chubby little hands free to pick things up and drop them.
Walking was important in my family because we didn’t have a car which was understandable in the early Sixties when very few people could afford four wheels. And so we walked everywhere. If it was possible to walk the distance, we did. Sometimes we boarded a trolley bus to take us into the centre of town and back again, with its conductor yawping ‘old on tight!’ ticket machine slung around his neck, its open platform and its leather seats which stuck uncomfortably to bare legs in hot summers. I always hankered to go upstairs and sit at the very front of the bus so I could pretend I was the driver. I enjoyed pulling up at bus stops to graciously pick up a little huddle of cold and resentful passengers who’d been waiting for well over an hour.
I walked my way through my childhood. I walked to school on my own from age seven, five days a week. I walked weekly to my piano lesson. I walked to church, three times every Sunday.
I was a good little walker.
Now I grew up on a council estate, not a million miles from some of the most beautiful countryside in the country but I didn’t know it was there. The consensus amongst my neighbours was that once you’ve seen one field, you’ve seen them all, and as I hadn’t ever really seen one, I saw no reason to disbelieve this. My church didn’t have any interest or attachment to nature in all its glory. It was always too preoccupied with the glory of worshipping God and bringing lost souls to Christ and somehow never made the connection between its version of glory and the much-ridiculed fields.
I’ve always been wary myself of the great outdoors which is hardly surprising when you think about it. I have, at various points in my life set off with other eager rosy-cheeked Christians on a walk to pray with a tree or find God in a dandelion, but it never really touched me. I was always too worried about when the next loo stop would be, or if that cow in the field was really a bull, or if it would start to rain. Walks were always something of an ordeal. I felt clumsy and awkward and out of place and thought I’d be much happier walking round the shops.
Until lockdown when our government allowed us one hour a day to exercise outside. I seized it, and with a lack of anything else to do, I started to walk. I set off with a distinct sense of foreboding. I didn’t have any of the proper gear and made do with an old pair of trainers and my pink mac from Zara. Fellow travellers looked as though they were ready to tackle Kilimanjaro, but greeted me warmly.
I set off and my spirits lifted. To my surprise, I could put one foot in front of the other, just as the pros were doing and before long, I was motoring along so effortlessly that I didn’t realise almost an hour had passed and I had walked a couple of miles. I felt exhilarated, energetic, refreshed, tingling all over with cold and achievement.
The next day, I went back and did it again.
Now it’s a bit of a confession when the milometer has passed sixty to say that you have just begun to feel your feet on the ground. That you have just become aware of the connection between the self you call your body and the hard, firm, unyielding earth. That you can press with your toes and the soles of your feet onto the planet and know it’s there. That you actually are, just as the earth is, and somehow the two of you have something in common.
Maybe it’s the beginning of being rooted and grounded. I’ve always struggled with feeling rooted and grounded in God until fairly recently when I began to understand connection. Connection with another. Connection with my-self. Connection with Love.
That didn’t happen overnight, but I am knowing now how connection, real, deep profound, connection at some primal level of being feels. And maybe being grounded is about connection to something else as well. Feeling the earth beneath my feet. Knowing I can stand and knowing I can walk.
And knowing that not all fields look the same.