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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Walking backwards

Before sunrise, the sky, in a designated dark sky area, is mostly unblemished by human light sources.  The light grey of the sidewalks are only timidly visible next to the black asphalt of the streets, and even the most confident of walkers all wear some kind of bright illumination and reflective gear.

It is a small group that manages these walking treks before the dawn, all of us ever wary of desert creatures with whom we share these streets.  We know each other only by our silhouettes as we weave in and out of our empty streets, ever watchful for the sleeping rattlesnake curled on the road or the passing shadow of a coyote or bobcat on their way home to the desert.

And so it was one morning awhile back when I left the dim light of our recessed porch.  The crescent moon cast a meager glow on the sidewalk, so my neck lights were on high beam pointed directly at the path in front of me. But their light was so bright, I felt like I was trapped in an all night convenience store, and so I covered the dual lights with my hands so I could stop and gaze at the unencumbered night sky and catch clear sight of the planets and stars.  As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, a sense of awe enveloped me and caused me to hold my breath, so beautiful was the silence of the stars unwavering in their dedication to illuminate the dark sky.

Uncomfortable with walking on in the near total darkness, I removed my hands from the beams of the neck light and started walking again.  As my eyes adjusted to the sudden light, in the distance I began to make out a shadow of a small rounded back walking in the dark ahead of me in the middle of the road with no illumination. I slowed my pace so as not to overcome the walker and rudely surprise them by my presence.

The problem was, no matter how I slowed my pace, the rounded back of the walker did not move away from me. . It was coming closer.

My brain went into a tailspin.  How could the back of a human form be walking towards me? That defied the laws of physics.  For a moment, I became disoriented and confused.  That back continued to come closer  towards me, and as the space narrowed and my heartbeat quickened, I began to wonder if being alone in the dark was a safe choice.

A few yards later,  the rounded back of the shadow was almost next to me, and I realized it was a person walking backward who could not have seen me, so I coughed and said good morning, still a little fearful and uncertain. A lilting women’s voice answered me, and she turned in my direction and stopped. I could not help but inquire why she would be walking backward in the dark, as it seemed a very dangerous activity.

It helps me with my balance.  I started practicing at home in my house, and as I got better, I started doing it outside. Now I can walk long distances.

We stood in the dark and exchanged pleasantries as neighbors often do here, and then recounted a few more life details before we said our goodbyes and she disappeared, walking backwards, into the dark. You should try it, she called out to me, and she laughed as she continued on her way. As I restarted my walk, I contemplated her sanity, or lack there of, as I watched the first hint of sunrise.  And then it dawned on me.

Maybe she was on to something.

Most of us, I think, go through life armed to the teeth with every form of self-made light.  We think, perhaps if we cover ourselves with enough headlamps and blinking leg lights we will be able to see what lies ahead and be prepared for it. We think we have all the time in the world and that our future is guaranteed.But the reality is that life is a roadmap cluttered with unexpected detours, road closures, and rough surfaces, and it does not come with a set of directions.

No matter what we tell ourselves aren’t we really all making it up as we go, as though tomorrow is certain?  I know I am.  And I am fully loaded with my safety lights and my well made plans holding on to the illusion that I somehow can not only control the future, but that I have some idea of what it holds.

But perhaps if instead I expected that everything is a mystery and no future is guaranteed,  I would be less traumatized when blindsided by the unexpected. Perhaps, if I let go of my own ineffective light, I would stop cursing the inevitable darkness.

And perhaps, if I started practicing walking backwards in the dark,

I could simply embrace the “what is now”

with a well practiced faith in the road I cannot see.

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