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Almost every day when Brea and I walk to school we (or sometimes just I if i have already dropped her off at her entrance) at some point cross paths with another little girl and her grandma who are also on their way to the school. The little girl, who Brea has told me is in the classroom across the hall from her, always has a smile on her face. She is a petite little thing with little round glasses that seem to big for her tiny face and a back pack that bounces off the back of her knees as she trots along. She's often running ahead of her grandma so excited to get to her classroom. Every time I see her I can't help but smile. She's joy embodied.

Her grandma, a thin also petite woman, is always simply dressed, often in Carlisle Wildcat wear, and wears similar round glasses as her granddaughter. It's easy to see that they are related, both with their dark hair and fine features. The grandma quietly walks her granddaughter along, often glancing down at the ground as we pass. I have passed this woman well over a hundred times through the school year as we have walked our preschoolers to and from school, yet I do not know her name. I can tell you what she's likely to be wearing if it's warm, if it's cool, in the snow, if it's raining, yet we have never exchanged words. I smile as we pass, and I believe on occasion have even said a quiet "hello" yet can't remember her ever returning a smile or greeting. I do not take her to be unfriendly, she simply seems sad.

The grandma, her husband, and what I think are 3 granddaughters (Brea's little preschool classmate being the youngest) live in a small house not a full two blocks down the street from our house. I can see their residence from the windows of my front porch as I type this post. Their yard is well kept and the small house, which I assume to be old like so many of the houses around ours, has been re-sided in light blue with fresh white trim. While I don't officially know their story, I have gathered through general observation that the grandparents are the full time guardians of the 3 energetic girls that I sometimes see (or simply hear) playing in the front yard. Whatever their story, it's hard not to notice the sharp contrast between the simple joy and hope that comes with youth expressed by the face of the little granddaughter, and the sadness that seems to rest heavy on the shoulders and almost hauntingly in the eyes of her grandma.

Almost all of the places we frequent in Carlisle lie no more than 8 blocks from our house. The gym where I work. My studio space. The library. The school. The post-office. The bank. As such I have made it a point to commute to those places on foot whenever possible. We bundled in warm wear and snow boots through the snowy winter months. This spring I invested in an extra umbrella and some rain boots. Walking has just become the normal, rather than the exception.

Walking around town to do my business has not only helped me save gas and sneak in a little extra exercise here and there, it has allowed me to experience my surroundings. To take notice of people and places and sounds in a way one just doesn't do from zooming along in the comfort of one's car. A few examples:
  • There is this one little old man who lives down the street. I often see him out for a walk apparently just checking out the neighborhood and getting some fresh air. Even through the cold of winter I would see him in his denim overalls, orthopedic shoes, cane in hand, ball cap on his head, shuffling down the sidewalk. I would venture to say he used to be a farmer. If we happen to cross paths he always has a cheery smile, a hello, and often a comment about the weather to share in passing.
  • Shortly after the first of the year a new family moved into a house I pass on my way to work. When the weather started to warm up I started to see a little boy out playing in the yard in the evenings. He's far from shy. One day he stopped me to tell me his name and age (he's 4) and ask me mine. I'm embarrassed to say I don't remember his name, as I'm sure he does not remember mine, but he obviously remembers my face because if he's out playing he quickly details whatever he's up to as I walk past. This week he was a ninja...killing all the other bad ninjas with is stick sword.
  • I have two general paths that I walk on my way downtown. During the evenings I walk straight east 4 blocks and then south into the "business district" on the main drag. In the mornings I walk south first to drop Brea off at a friend's, and then east on the street that runs along the school into downtown. This spring I have been meeting a different older gentleman with a cane on my morning route. This gentleman is taller, thin, I'm guessing not as old as the cheery old guy I see on my other route, has a gray beard and is usually carrying a bag of groceries, I'm assuming on his way home after a post breakfast trip to the store. He moves slowly and often keeps his gaze low, but will return a quiet hello if I offer one up first. There is something about him that makes me think he might be a military veteran.
  • This spring I've started to notice the distant ping of balls being hit off metal bats at the high school fields as baseball season starts. It's starting to more regularly replace the sound of cheers from spring soccer games.
  • I pass one yard with 3 dogs (2 medium sized, 1 small) who always bark at me from behind their chain-link fence if they are outside. I noticed last night 1 has a new bark collar and could do nothing more than silently (looking very frustrated) run back and forth as I passed.
  • Close to downtown I pass an apartment building. During warmer evenings I will often see kids out throwing a ball in the yard or a couple guys out hanging around a smoking grill shooting the breeze with a couple of beers in hand.
Along my walking routes I can tell you which yards have flowering trees; who does or does not shovel the snow from their sidewalks in the winter; which houses house young families and which house grandparents. I notice people who drive past me as I'm walking, realizing just how often they are distracted by a cell phone, a meal/snack on the go, or an often animated conversation with others in the car. I can also tell you how many little old ladies (and men) drive around town (especially on Thursday's, which I have been informed is "hair day") who I question if they should still have a license...for both my safety and their own!

Slowly over the past year I've started to piece together bits of stories about the people living in our part of town, much like that of the the little girl and her grandma. It's one small section, but I'm guessing it's safe to say, other than the new housing developments on the far south edge of town and the few grand homes tucked away in a little circle to the west of us, much of Carlisle has a similar feel as our neighborhood. The stretches of sidewalks I have so often walked are familiar, but yet at the same time not necessarily inviting. I've struggled with how I feel about our new community. The girls have had a great experience this year in school. Scott likes being closer to work. I have meet some nice people, people I would even call friends, through work and my classes. We love the warm inviting feel of our house, other than learning how we will never again buy a house on one of the busiest residential corners of town. We've come to really enjoy spending time with our neighbors who are also transplants and enjoy casual chats shared over a glass of wine. Yet with so much seemingly going good, I've still had this unsettling feeling that I couldn't really put my finger on. And honestly, I've felt more than a little guilty about feeling such when the rest of my house hold has seemed to adjust so well. I almost feel like that little girl and her grandma appear. On one hand there is joy and hope, much like I see on the face of Brea's classmate as she skips to school. On the other, having had some of that optimism dimmed by the realities of how different aspects of our life have played out over the past year, I feel the weight of sadness that seems to be a characteristic often encountered in this town leaning on my shoulder.

Yesterday I read this comment by Patricia Walden, a well respected senior yoga teacher who has done much to assist the growth of the practice of yoga in the US, in an article on backbends in Yoga Journal.
The key is to feel your feelings fully, and to practice with a compassionate awareness of the difficult feelings instead of pushing them away or beating yourself up for having them.
And so, that is my plan. To keep walking. To keep allowing myself to become familiar with the subtle stories of my community. To let myself experience my feelings fully for what they, sadness, anger, hope, the extremes, the in-betweens. To validate with compassion and awareness my feelings, while at the same time letting them happen and pass, not to linger casting their color on my story. We each have our own unique stories, and those stories are not fully woven until we take our final breath. My story does not end here.



Erica said…
What a wonderful post. We could all do with a bit more walking :)
Jane said…
Lovely post. I love to walk through the nearby small town, but it is too far for me to walk to it. Sometimes I bike to it. This is the biggest part that I miss about growing up in the city - walking every where!

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