Friday, July 30, 2010

The Treadmill

When my mother mentioned buying a treadmill once, my father looked at her with a slightly surprised frown on his face. “That contraption won’t take you anywhere,” he said, “you walk and walk, and you never move from the point you started.” It was a joke, of course, but when I thought about those words later on in life, I realized they can be applied to more than exercise.

A treadmill is surely a great invention – one can walk in the comfort of one’s own home, sheltered from petty crime, elements, and even loneliness, as a TV is often nearby; one can also exercise without getting dressed, as a treadmill, thankfully, has no mirrors. Those are all great advantages, and it is understandable why many prefer walking on a rolling mat than on a sidewalk, but, like all things, even treadmills have downfalls.

Growing up in the city I walked everywhere, and it wasn’t long before I started noticing life exploding all around me as I did. While walking to school in the mornings, I always passed by a bakery owned by the father of one of my friends. I still remember the fragrant aroma of freshly baked focaccia, as it escaped the poorly sealed door like a genie freed from of a bottle. As I waited from my friend – she used to go help her parents at the bakery before school – I often stood outside the door, watching people walk in and out of the cafĂ© directly across the street. For a few mornings, I had noticed a boy who always seemed to walk into the cafe staring down at his feet; after a few moments inside, he always came out holding a small white paper bag and never looked up. That morning he dropped his paper bag, and while normally I would have just remained frozen by the door, I had a sudden burst of courage, walked over, picked up the bag and handed it to him. He raised his eyes and smiled at me, and when he did, I noticed the skin on his neck was badly damaged from a bad burn. When he saw me looking at it, he quickly looked down, but I told him my name and asked for his. That morning marked the beginning of a good friendship that lasted many years and was a great source of support while growing up.

I still like to walk. Over the years, walking has allowed me to witness many situations I have learned something from, and has gifted me with opportunities to notice the unpretentious beauty of things and people around me. Many of those things would have gone completely unnoticed had I chosen to walk on a treadmill instead.

We often give up on exploring opportunities because we are afraid to detach from a false sense of security and comfort, at the cost of isolating and limiting ourselves. We contemplate the need of making changes in our world, but more times than not, we are not ready to let go of what’s holding us back. Even when we are unhappy of our current situation, we stick with it because it feels familiar, because we don’t want to stir the pot, because, ultimately, we are afraid of upsetting the order of things and getting lost in the shuffle. We have the power to change, and yet many of us continue walking on the treadmill, basking in the illusion that we ARE doing something while in fact we are not. In the end, we CAN turn off the switch, step off and walk outside into the real world; when we do, we will truly know we are getting somewhere.