Walking Among A Crowd

· Posted by Joshua in Miscellany

A Crowd of Walking Stick Figures

I’m walking, slowly, on a campus sidewalk. Around me, others are walking too. They are walking faster than I am, not swiftly, but steadily passing me as they go hither and thither about their days. There are many of them, and most of them are moving together, as one. They flow down the sidewalk together as if a liquid, occasionally damming up behind an obstacle before finally funneling through doors and filtering into their countless destinations. I am only a stone in their river, and as they wash past me on all sides, I too am prodded slowly forward along their course.

I begin to walk faster, until I, too, am one with the liquid mass. It is a new world. At my own pace I had been but one among many, but now we all walk together, a thousand chattering friends in the great hall under the sky. Our conversations come with us as we go; we share tales of the day thus far and make plans for the night to come. We smile and joke and laugh, and we become oblivious to all of our surroundings. It is almost as if we, the walking, were still, and the world was moving briskly beneath our feet.

Once again I hasten my pace, stretching my legs farther, until I am zooming through the crowd. My speed shatters the conversations around me, and I move between the fragments, gathering bits and pieces as I go: he has a test on Tuesday, her aunt had surgery last week, the party was at Jake’s house. That’s all I know; the voices fade behind me. All the others seem so slow to me now! Whereas once I was a rock rolling slowly along their riverbed, I feel now like they are the boulders, and I am a kayak crashing over the rapids, weaving between and around the obstacles in my course—the laggards in my way.

Suddenly, I stop. Now I am an island, and though the others still flow around me, I have broken from their river. I am now one with the earth and the sky; I am joined with the concrete of the sidewalk, the bricks of the buildings, the grass in the lawn. I am a part of the landscape, and soon others are passing without even looking, as if I was firmly planted here, a tree in their trail. As I stand here, I begin to ponder.

How does the speed at which we move through the landscape affect our view of the landscape? How do the different speeds at which we move relative to each other impact our relationships with one another? And how, in turn, do people’s views of the world affect the ways in which they move through it?

How fast do you go? Why? Do you ever really think about it? What does it matter?

Your comments are welcome.

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  1. It seems like you know a little bit about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I have too pondered why I walk a certain speed, but I have noticed that whether I under stress or wanting to go somewhere quickly (perhaps class), I move quicker, but when I ponder, I am calm and I move slower. Do you think how fast we go through this world has any kind of effect on how we interact with the world? Do you think that people who care less for nature move quickly through the world while others who care intensely for nature more at a slow pace? Do you think people who are happy move fast or slow? What about people who are depressed? Calm or tense? Some people claim that if you move to slow, the world is just passing you by, but others claim that if you move slow, you take more in of the world. Do you think that these both can be true at the same time? Is there a certain speed at which we can pass through this world while catching all there is of the world and also not letting the world pass us by, or just like you said, is everything relative? Was Einstein right all along?

  2. Have you ever hear of a flaneur? It is the loafer, usually a young person, who moves slowly through the streets thinking, seeing, reflecting.

    1. Hello! The flaneurs have, I fear, escaped my attention until I discovered your comment. Interesting. I sometimes move slowly through the streets thinking, seeing, etc. But most of the time, I’m rushing about rather hurriedly, still thinking, but not seeing quite as much as I may like to see. Or is it just that I see differently? The walker, the bicyclist, the motorist, they can all take the same street and be in an entirely different world.

  3. I do think the pace at which one moves has an impact–zooming by on a bike it is nearly impossible to take in the small, still things around. More than speed though, I think it is a presence of mind. I know I am generally a slow walker, and usually take in my surroundings, but there are times where I have wandered somewhere and my mind is elsewhere completely, and I notice nothing except the pictures in my mind. Sometimes it is necessary to look without thinking, or at least thinking in the Western habit, and instead just BE with the flower or the tree or the empty beer cans and soak in the environment.