I think to a certain degree we’d all like to believe that life is long. That the changes in the seasons don’t pass as quickly as they seem to, and that our next birthday is rounding the corner a touch slower than reality insists.
And it is in fact reality that screams in our faces to pay attention to the world around us, the people around us, and not merely let the days we have continually appear in our rear view mirrors.
Personally, I struggle with this. As I sometimes find myself focusing on the future, I forget to be an active participant in my own present.
A good friend of mine, wiser than she recognizes, once wrote about herself:
The consciousness of my own mortality often prevents me from performing menial tasks.
The profound simplicity and naked truth of this sentence always impresses me. At first glance this may look as if it were written by someone who acts as voyeur in this life, but quite the opposite. In my opinion, when you come to truly appreciate the beauty of the life we all have, only the thought of your own mortality can slow you down.
But how do we pay more attention?
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
This is the trick, learning to look around once and a while. I don’t practice this enough, but several years ago a good friend taught me a lesson in life awareness that I truly believe every should practice…
How To Walk Like A Macedonian
In 2005 I was transferred from my position in Toronto to work and live in London, England. During my stay I was fortunate enough to meet a co-worker who would become a lifelong friend (for this story lets call him Vlad).
While in London my working hours ran from noon to 8pm. As there were only two of us that had been transplanted from foreign soil we were essentially forced to either hang out together or function as an island. Luckily we hit it off.
Most evenings after work began the same way. Vlad and I would exit the office at Cavendish Square, walk to Oxford Circus, and decide which way to go look for dinner. From Oxford Circus we’d wander around central London like two vagabonds discussing everything from politics, to relationships, to our careers (or “jobs” as it were) and back. No topic seemed out of bounds and neither side feared debate. And realistically our sole qualifiers for a venue to eat at (from my memory) was that it was new, or that it was pizza we could carry to the arcade. Yes, simple times.
By the end of the first month, Vlad and I were beginning to function like two old friends that had known one another for years. So one night as I began my always quick paced walk into the night, I heard Vlad behind me say, (this next part will all be paraphrased as it has been 5 years so cut me some lack would ya).
“Mike, where the hell are you rushing to? Every night we leave the office and you nearly start sprinting forward to nowhere. I’m tired of keeping up for no good reason. I think it’s time I taught you to walk like a Macedonian.”
“That sounds great Vlad, but I don’t know if I can drag my knuckles.” (I didn’t say this at all, but it would have been hilarious it I did.)
Vlad began to discuss with me how, as he would sit in the town square in Macedonia he would watch the old men walk with their friends; Slowly, peacefully, with no where particularly to go. Vlad said that they seemed at ease and that as he tried it he noticed a big difference in his own perspective as well… so what the hell, I gave it a shot. Its not like I had anything else to do.
Vlad and I began our almost nightly walk through Leicester Square at a pace that made turtles look at us and say, “Right on my brothas, right on.”
No agenda. No place to be, and no direction was the right direction.
This exercise was much more difficult than I anticipated. To walk with purpose and direction is simple. You move forward swiftly, with your head up and prepared to dodge and move. In London that also means to watch you do not take an umbrella in the retina.
Vlad had me slow down so that each step would almost fall into the other, like a graceful stumble, with no further purpose but to stay erect(insert childish laugh) and edge forward.
To walk like a Macedonian takes skill and the ability to relax, to disconnect, which at most times I do not possess. But as I began to walk lock and step with Vlad I found some amazing changes begin to take place. My breathing slowed, my muscles relaxed, and for the first time since I had landed in the UK… I could see.
I mean reeeaally see.
Even when I had gone sightseeing on my own during the weekends I found myself on a mission, a mission to see the city of London.
Mission is a go.
Deploy to tube station and commence sightseeing…GO! GO! GO!
Even when I was relaxing I was rushing, but not this time.
As I strolled through Leicester square I WAS in the moment.
I could see the pedestrian approaching, not as an obstacle on my path, but as a person living their life in the same space as mine.
During this walk I remember laughing as if someone had told me a joke, because truthfully, the joke had been my speed walking to nowhere mentality, and the punchline was what I had been missing.
Sometimes we have to force ourselves to look around, because it’s not about what’s in front of us, it’s about what is around us, and who we surround ourselves with, be it, friend, family, or stranger. It was a beautiful experience.
Please allow me to be clear on something, I am not saying I walk like a Macedonian full-time now, hell, I’d never get anywhere, but I make sure that every so often I slow myself down so to fully acknowledge where I am.
Several times I have been walking with a friend who would be speed walking to nowhere and I’d spend ten minutes telling them the story of Vlad and teaching them, no matter how long it takes, how to walk like a Macedonian.
Now should I ever catch myself running through life, looking ahead without knowing where my feet are, I am thankful for the gift of the Macedonian Walk, and the gift Vlad gave me that will surely last a lifetime.
Life may not be as long as we would prefer, but if we are able to breathe in the moments we cherish in all their glory, just maybe we can make the memories last a lifetime.