The walking cure

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I rise from my perch, where I scribble, throw on a parka from the back closet, grab my keys, wallet and phone, and struggle to lock the door behind me. I face the wind, look both ways before I cross the threshold of the front porch and then I begin. I am going for a walk.

I do this every day, but I do not do it lightly. At a specific time, usually mid-morning, the sun squeaks through the blinds of my downtown Moncton home as if to remind me that my feet must move, my legs must stretch, my lungs must breathe. Take, it says, the walking cure.

The cure to what, you may ask? Well, whaddya got?

The fact that more Canadians live in poverty than at any time since the Great Depression of the last century; there’s that. The realization that big corporations in this country are literally flowing with retained earnings, yet penny-pinching their employees to the blood-blister point; there’s that too.

But, no, the real spiritual malaise in all of us stems from a desperate certainty that we have become pawns on the chess board of global politics; that the right hand of power meets the left, daily and dutifully, in the assemblies and parliaments we once assumed were ours to direct, as citizens of elected democracies, from the muddy, munificent middle.

No more, no more. I’m walking.

I trudge through the streets of the old West End of Moncton, admiring the modest homes that a socially democratic nation made possible 60 years ago. I pause, occasionally, to stare at the mansions that absurd wealth and privilege have purchased only recently.

Should we be that rich? Should we be that poor? How shall we all live together, living, as we do, in such close quarters?

I march down Gordon Street, which inexplicably becomes Queen Street, past the halfway houses and empty lots, past the real estate companies and condo developments, past the placards that taggers have signed, “What do you have to hide?”, past the agents’ billboards that declare there are dreamy properties in the offing if only you will offer, perhaps, your first-born cheque on a dare of belief in the future of a province that can’t seem to balance its books, care for its invalids, and educate its precious young.

No more, no more. I’m walking.

I walk the way a man stumbles into the woods: with one knee pounded into the ground and one hand splayed angrily against the sky.

As the late, great polemicist Henry David Thoreau wrote in the 1900s, “We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”

Are we, then, men and women in Canada, in New Brunswick, prepared to ask, challenge and agitate – in effect, to rise from our various perches for a gritty stroll that risks changing our attitudes, our very minds about what we can achieve?

How many of us are actually willing to go for a truly meaningful walk in this country, in this province, in this city, in this time of our lives – to cross the threshold and, in the wind, begin again?

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