Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dear World, My Dearest World

It's not all rose-tinted. I know what streets not to walk down, I even know which side of the street not to walk on. I know what people to give a wide berth, without making it obvious I'm giving them I wide berth. I know how to be invisible in plain sight. I chose this suburb over other suburbs precisely because I knew I could walk through it at night without it being an exercise in stupidity. I do not go out of my way to put myself in harm's way - that's not my way.

When I went to leave, there were cries of no, don't be silly, just wait, someone will give you a lift. People were having fun with karaoke and the amazing dessert spread, and in truth, I wanted the walk. I told them to stay put and carry on.

They kept at it, far beyond the point of courtesy. It was as if the idea of walking as anathema to them, and I laughed and told them they were allergic to it.

Instead, they pulled out the safety card.

The people who tell me that walking alone at night is unsafe, that traveling on the trains is unsafe, are the people who don't, who never have.

I want to tell them that they have no idea what they are missing out on, but they wouldn't understand if I did, because they really have no idea, cannot even grasp the edge of it.

It was a perfect evening for walking. The air was cool, the late afternoon rain having washed the heat and dust from it, filling the world with that too-rare smell of water. It was that quiet in-between hour, the sun having set without the night moving in, people sitting and still in their dining rooms. The sky was a thousand shades of pearl and down and mist. The crickets were out. I was out. It was a perfect evening for walking.

I can't tell you the moments I've stumbled upon while walking alone or sitting on the train by myself. Little pieces of...something. I could read meaning into them, I suppose, but they don't require it. They're not love, peace, beauty, or anything so easy to label. They're not secret. They're not hidden. They're just little moments. Some of them are sad, some are confronting, some of them are joyous; all of them are amazing.

I suppose putting myself in a position to encounter such things is my way of worship, if such a word could ever be applied to me, and in doing so I strengthen my faith, for I know of no other word to use. There will always be something else, something that isn't new or brilliant or shocking, just something that you can only find in this place at this time with this air, and once you've gone by you'll never be able to get into that moment again. These instances make life worth living, and the world worth living in.

And so, to those who cast me dubious, dismissive, scornful and worried looks, I understand you. I do. I would love the convenience of a car. One day I will get jumped, mugged and/or raped, and at that time I'll wish I had the security of a locked door and the control a steering wheel and pedal offer.

One of the things that makes the streets a scary place to walk is that people are scared to walk in them. If you are afraid, then there will be something for you to be afraid of. You could be attacked by strangers. You could have your phone stolen. You could be beaten and left bleeding under the street lights. These are real things. If you like, you can be afraid of them.

You could very well see a giant smiley face in the stars. You could find genius graffiti amid the real estate signs. You could smell honeysuckle in the twilight. You could catch a glimpse through an open door of someone playing the piano. You could meet someone worth meeting. You could find peace of mind walking down the middle of an empty road in the twilight. These are real things too, and for me there was never, has never been any choice to make.

It was never about safety.

You'll miss these things if you're moving too fast. I suppose, if you live without these things, you won't be looking for them, you may not even need them in your life. That in itself is a sad moment, because I can't help but want to share these little discoveries. They are important, not even that, they're precious, and for this reason alone - not convenience safety environment money health - I will never own a car. I don't pass through the world; the world passes through me, and I'm a better person for it.


  1. Anonymous6/12/08 20:08

    I prefer to walk at night. The daylight belongs to too many people. It belongs to automobiles, cell phones, talking yelling laughing loud voices; to signs and traffic lights and airplanes overhead. It's too bright and too noisy and it makes me flatten my ears back and hiss. Metaphorically speaking.

    You can't find the moments, during the day. There's no such thing, unless you are looking really really hard, as this time and this place and this right now that gives you the connection you need. Too many distractions.

    More dangerous? Certainly. But worth the risk. Night-time speaks to me with quiet words and silences and moments.

    You have it exactly right.

  2. Anonymous7/12/08 00:10

    I miss my evening walks in Melbourne. Central BKK is quite a safe place to walk around at night -- because it's full of people. It might as well be daytime. Nothing here like the solitudes of a Flemington evening. Early mornings are the best walking time here -- the only time, really, for quietly communing with the world and being open to those small (and sometimes large) epiphanies.

    A kind of worship? I would call it that. Beautiful post. Thank you.

  3. Very true, about daylight belonging to too many people. Which is fair enough, but night walking being quieter and softer gives the illusion that the whole world exists just for you, if only for a bit.

    Thanks, Kirsten. I'm not sure I'd know how to cope in a city that never stopped. Even Melbourne goes very quiet at night, the exception of Fridays and Saturdays.

  4. I like the night too - while in the UK, I loved wandering around London after midnight when I was down there for work or fencing, especially the City, normally full of suits during the day, much quieter at night.

  5. I imagine London lends itself beautifully to night walking. Melbourne is lovely for strolling around after dark, but a city as old as London would be saturated with atmosphere and ripe with discoveries.

    I did a lot of late night ambling when I was in Japan, but the majority of Japan never stops.