Maybe you have heard about it in the media: there are not only professional dog walkers out there, but also people walkers. I’m not kidding. It started 2 years ago with a man named Chuck McCarthy down in the LA area. Chuck is one of the many aspiring actors who is more in between acting jobs than actually acting, so he was looking to supplement his scant income somehow. His first thought was do become a dog walker, but he doesn’t like handling dog poop, so he had the ingenious idea to offer walking people. His reasoning was that people sometimes need that extra bit of motivation to get out and walk, and that he could provide that. First Chuck hung flyers everywhere, offering his services. And it took off. So eventually Chuck set up an app, similar to Uber or Lyft where hesitant walkers could book a walk with him – at the rate of $7 a mile.
When Chuck was asked about this seemingly crazy idea, he said that it’s not just about the walk – although the exercise is important – it is also about the opportunity to talk, to have someone just to chat with or even discuss weightier matters. For if you walk together, you usually talk together. There is something about moving next to each other and not facing one another that loosens the tongue. If you consider what a talk therapist costs an hour, $7 per mile doesn’t sound so bad, right?
Now Chuck is not the only one anymore who walks people. He found like-minded folks and, with them, started the company ‘The People Walker’, Trademark. Their website is thepeoplewalker.com. They are currently available in the LA area only, but hoping to expand to other cities. Now the charge is a flat rate of $15 for 30 minutes, which you pay through your smart phone. And since now there are more professional people walkers available, you can check out their profiles via the website or the app, to make sure you get someone you click with. And, yes, all walkers are finger printed and background checked.
The People Walker explains their purpose as follows: ‘The People Walker™ is about movement and connection. We started The People Walker™ because we thought there might be people out there like us. People who need motivation to leave the house, exercise, and talk to someone else face to face. People that sometimes just want the security of a companion. People who don’t want to do it alone but can’t always coordinate with friends or family.’
And they even have a mission statement: ‘We want to help make the world a better place one step at a time.’ And they do it through more than just walking: a certain percentage of the income goes to local charities.
Do you think this is crazy? Maybe it seems like it at first, but I really think Chuck and his peers are on to something: that walking and talking are important for human interaction and the wellbeing of body, mind and soul. And the people walkers basically pick up on something our ancestors did naturally and maybe we still did when we were younger: walk and talk.
At this point, I want to share a little personal walking story: in my early twenties, I traveled solo through Western Ireland. One day I was on a hike to and from an ancient fortress, walking up and down the surprisingly hilly – and lonely – country road. I was just starting to climb another of those hills, when I noticed a middle aged man on a bicycle coming up behind me. As he reached me, he got off his bike and started a friendly conversation, pushing his bike as he was walking alongside me. I was just pleasantly surprised by this unlikely and unexpected company. And as we reached the top of the hill, the man said a friendly farewell, got back on his bike, and rolled down the road.
It’s easier and more pleasant to share the road, even with a friendly stranger.
And now to a biblical walking story: the story of the disciples walking the road to Emmaus. These two have a goal: to get away from all the horrible events in Jerusalem. Game’s over, let’s go home. It’s easier for those two men to share the road than walking it alone. They were disciples of Jesus, they shared the road with him. But now Jesus is dead, their hopes and dreams of the Messiah shattered, and the two men of the road, still traumatized by all the events in Jerusalem, seem to find solace and comfort in the presence of one another. They don’t just walk together, they share a special fellowship on that road, the road back home, the road back to life as it was before Jesus appeared. At least, this seems to be their assumption. There is comfort in company. There is comfort in home.
On foot, it takes a couple of hours to get from Jerusalem to Emmaus. A few hours to walk off the grief and disappointment. A few hours to talk about it all. A stranger joins them. This is nothing unusual – roads are not necessarily safe, as the parable of the good Samaritan demonstrates; the more, the safer. And this stranger not only joins in their physical journey, but their conversation as well. What are you talking about? Well, are you the only one who hasn’t heard about Jesus of Nazareth, how they put him on trial, tortured and killed him?
They don’t recognize the one who is walking with them. How could they? Jesus is dead, this much they know – even though those women spread some rumors that he had risen from the dead – how could it be that he himself is sharing their road? And Jesus doesn’t make it easy for them. No, Jesus wants to open their minds and their hearts. And so he teaches them, as they are walking together, about all that needed to take place for the son of man to be glorified. Not only their feet, but also their minds are kept in motion.
Roughly 350 years before the walk to Emmaus, the Greek Philosopher Aristotle and his school on Athens taught in the same way: talking and discussing while walking. The term for this teaching style is ‘peripatetic’, from the Greek ‘peripateo’, to stroll or walk about. The thinking behind this style is that, while we are sitting, while we are immobile and probably comfortable, our minds get settled and comfortable as well. You are in one position, your mind is stuck, and you become rather inflexible in your thinking. Makes you wonder how we teach our kids in school, doesn’t it? While you walk, so the theory, your mind is much more open and in motion as well. While you walk, your perspective changes constantly, thus reminding you that you need to keep your mind in motion constantly as well, to literally broaden your horizon.
I think it’s a fascinating theory. And looking at the Easter stories, there seems to be something to it: it is the women who walk to the tomb whose hearts and minds are opened first with the wonderful news that Jesus is risen. The disciples who are hiding away and locked up for fear, cowering, paralyzed with fear, don’t get it – at first.
In today’s gospel story, we have a very telling line. After Jesus joins the two on the road and asks them what they are discussing, they stood still, looking sad. The painful memory stops them dead in their tracks. They are stuck, unable to see and understand and believe beyond their experiences. Jesus sets them in motion again, walking the walk and talking the talk. They still don’t recognize him as they reach their destination, but there is something about that stranger, there is something about sharing the road and their thoughts and feelings with him, that makes them say, Stay with us, for it is late.
And finally, in the breaking of the bread, they understand. And, though it is late, though it is dark, they rush all the way back to Jerusalem to share the news that they, indeed, have seen the risen Christ as well. The road doesn’t end in Emmaus. The road doesn’t end in the safety and complacency of the familiar. The road goes on, to be traveled each and every day anew. To be traveled, not alone, but in the company of our brothers and sisters, with whom we can share our thoughts and feelings, with whom we have communion and community.
That’s why we still come together, roughly 2,000 years after the resurrection. Others have continued to travel the road, and it leads to the here and now – and beyond. Christ is risen and has given us a new life – a life of purpose, a life that has the kingdom of God, a kingdom of peace and justice, as a goal. We are walking and discovering new horizons as we are on the road. We are travelers in the faith today, and we don’t have to make this journey alone – we are people walkers to each other. And we have Christ, who walks the sometimes challenging and difficult road with us.
And may our mission statement be as simple and beautiful as the mission statement of ‘People Walker’, Trademark: to help make this world a better place, one step at a time, by God’s grace and with God’s help.
Picture by Jon Tyson via unsplash.com
This post is also available in: German