(This post was first published as a column by the Staunton News Leader.)
“I like walking with you, Daddy,” my daughter said.
Her tiny hand slipped into mine and stayed there. Our joined arms moved back and forth in a soft cadence that echoed our footfalls.
“Me, too,” I said.
“Let’s play I Spy,” she offered.
“Okay. You go first.”
Our game began with the obvious—black for the truck in the driveway we were passing, red for the mailbox on the other side. Yellow for the sun. Gray for the dog that just bounded out from the field.
But then things began to get a little more difficult. On my part, anyway. I missed the orange on the robin that was pecking its dinner from the grass. And the brown on the rabbit that sat nearly invisible on the side of the road.
Missed the yellow hair bow on the little girl who was playing with a balloon in her backyard.
Missed the white on the rocks that scrunched under our feet.
Even missed the black on the very shirt I was wearing.
No father wants to be beaten in a game of I Spy by his seven-year-old daughter. Especially when that father happens to take a lot of pride in noticing things that others maybe wouldn’t. But as we walked and talked and swung our arms, I had to admit the obvious.
I was losing it. Slipping in my noticing.
It had been imperceptible rather than sudden, this change in me. That’s the worst kind. Change that comes sudden is painful, but at least you don’t go around wondering what happened and where you went wrong and how it got to be this way.
My thoughts were broken by the approach of a married couple taking that strange gait that is more than walk but not quite jog, puffing and sweating against the summer sun.
My daughter waved with her free hand, and I offered a “How ya’ll doin’?” in their direction. The man managed to nod weakly and gasp a “heeep,” which I took as hello. The woman was oblivious to us, transfixed on her goal of putting one foot in front of the other.
I looked down to see her gazing up to me, wrinkling her nose. I shrugged—beats me. We walked on.
A few more losing rounds of I Spy later, and we were greeted with another pedestrian. Younger woman, very fit. Decked out in Spandex and and armed with an iPod and a watch that looked as though it could not only count calories and measure distance, but split the atom as well.
She zoomed past our wave and “How are ya?” as if we were just more gravel and blades of grass. Just two more obstacles to avoid in the pursuit of a flatter stomach and firmer butt.
My daughter and I walked in silence a for a few steps, our game suspended. Then, “Daddy?”
“How come people walk so fast?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Most people around here use walking as exercising. But it’s only exercising if you go fast.”
She looked down to the road and kicked a pebble with her flip flop, thinking.
“Exercising’s good,” she offered.
“Very,” I said.
“And walking’s good, too.”
“But,” she said, “walking shouldn’t be exercising.”
“It shouldn’t? Why?”
She threw her arms up (and one of mine in the process) and said, “Look! Everything’s so pretty! These people are missing it all because they’re going too fast!”
I looked down at her and she up to me. She said, “Those people would be really bad at I Spy, Dad. They would lose every time because they can’t see anything.”
They’d lose every time. Because they’re going too fast.
We continued on then and resumed our game. The result was both inevitable and expected. She won without much of a contest.
But in a way, I won too. I learned something that evening with my daughter. Something important.
In the end, life should be a walk and not a run. We fool ourselves into thinking that the point is to get somewhere as fast as we can. It isn’t. It’s to have somewhere to go and then enjoy the trip to it.
There will always be a gap between where we are and where we want to be. In our deepest hearts we are all wanderers in search of something. That’s okay. Even wonderful. Just as long as we wander in wonder and hold the hand of someone we love.
To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at What I Learned Today, and be sure to catch Part One of his interview with Lynn Rush tomorrow about the call that every writer dreams about.