Thoughts for Yom Kippur 5780
When he last checked in with the world, Paul Salopek was walking near West Bengal, India with some coal miners. They described themselves to him as: “Very hard people, [doing] very hard work.”
Paul is taking a walk. A very long walk. He started walking 2,200 days ago, and in that time, he has walked nearly 6,700 miles.
Paul’s a journalist for National Geographic, and he decided to retrace the steps of the first human ancestors who migrated across the earth, all the while telling the stories of the people he meets along the way. It’s called The Out of Eden Walk.
The total journey is about twenty-one thousand miles – or thirty million steps – on foot, from the starting line in a place called Herto Bouri, Ethiopia until he gets to Tierra del Fuego, a Chilean archipelago off the southernmost tip of South America.
He thought it would take six or seven years total for the walk. But that was six years ago, and he’s not even halfway finished.
Every one hundred miles, Paul captures a 365 degree panorama, tapes the ambient audio, and records an interview with the nearest human being. These all go up on his website, for the rest of us to learn from.
[It] has altered the way I experience life on the planet,” he teaches. “If you walk through these communities, it lessens those barriers, those obstacles to true communication. You arrive on foot, literally at eye level with the people that you’re meeting… Your boots are planted on the same earth. You’re dirty, you’re sweaty, you stink. You’re burned by the same sun. You’ve got the same dust on your shoulders – and there’s a much easier access into their lives and what they say to you when you slow down and have a chai [tea] with them.”
Paul is learning in the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia and the 75-million-year-old Ethiopian highlands a truth about most of our lives today:
How the barriers we put up between us are largely unnatural and mostly unnecessary. And that the more fundamental truth about our lives is that “the boundaries between stories are permeable. One story bleeds into another, because human life bleeds into each other.”
This is not a truth to be gleaned only by walking for fourteen years. It’s also a truth that Pablo Neruda landed upon, tossed about by his turbulent world nearly fifty years earlier:
There is no insurmountable solitude,” he said during his Nobel acceptance speech. “All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song — but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny.”
We figure out who we are, and we share it with others. And, God-willing, we emerge from solitude into the clumsy dance of a lifetime of togetherness.
How are we doing at this clumsy dance, right now? Continue reading “Doing the Clumsy Dance of Opening our Hearts to Others”