Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Taking A Second Look

We live in a place where there are a lot of transient and homeless people. On street corners and around the downtown plaza, in front of the food co-op and at the weekend farmer's market, there is an ongoing presence of the downtrodden and the disconnected, the broken and the bereft. We always smile and nod. We never look away. We make eye contact. We are compassionate and never judgmental. We sometimes give money, and we always give our quiet acceptance.

We live a mile from the town square, so we were surprised the other day to find a man walking down our little street with a pack on his back. Our little neighborhood is not the usual place to find someone in need. But there he was. He was walking east past our house, and we were walking west back to our house from an after-dinner walk. I noticed the words on his tee-shirt. They said Walked Here From Florida. I turned around after a few steps and looked back at him. There was a sign on his pack that said, Walking to Seattle. I just couldn't believe it. Is this true? So I ran after him and asked him, "Did you really walk here all the way from Florida?" He said yes.

So, here on this little street in Arcata, we met this lovely young man who has been walking since May 2013 to raise money for ekal vidyalaya, an organization that is dedicated to bringing education and village development to rural India. He told us how just a little bit of money helps a lot of children there. He was absolutely committed to helping as many as he could. We asked him if he had a place to stay for the night. He said that he was on his way to his host's house. We asked him if he was going to fly home from Seattle. He said that he really wanted to step a foot into Canada, the way he had in Mexico, so he could say he walked from Florida to California, from Mexico to Canada. Then he wanted to rent a car and drive his walking path home.

Stephen Hnilica emanated serene happiness and a hopeful generosity of spirit. I asked him if I could take his picture. He said, "Sure, for five dollars." Uh-oh, I never carry my purse. So, I looked at Roger, "Do you have five dollars?" Stephen laughed, "I'm only kidding with you. Sure, take my picture." So I did with the iPhone. We thanked him. We shook hands. We told him how happy we were to have crossed paths with him. We waved good-bye.

We feel so unbelievably glad to have met him, to know a young person whose dream is bigger than himself. It's the best part of giving someone a second look.

19 comments:

  1. Fair play to the guy and his commitment, I hope he finishes what he set out to do

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  2. Did you check out ekal vidyalaya? Would you have let him stay with you if he hadn't already arranged other accommodations?

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  3. Bill-- We hope he finishes as well. It's been a long journey, and he's really close.

    Scott-- We checked out ekal vidyalaya. It looks like a very interesting non-profit. Wikipedia's page is pretty informative: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekal_Vidyalaya

    We would have let him stay with us. When I think about it, he probably had as much to fear about us (two crazy old folks chatting him up in the street) as we had of him (young man on the road with a backpack and a crazy story). He did have a "business" card with lots of links to his websites. He pulled out his iPhone and typed in our blog address. He seemed very grounded and interested in the world. I guess sometimes we just have to trust, scary as that may be in this ruthless world.

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  4. -----Those wonderful meetings with sojourners are treasures!

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  5. karmanot-- We wish there were more people on journeys like this. The planet needs walkers who are out to change the world.

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    1. When I was young I walked from Calcutta to Turkey. What a journey! I met the most amazing individuals, was given exceptional hospitality by village people, and gained an understanding about humanity that directed the course of my life.

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    2. That sounds like quite a journey. I can't even imagine what it must have been like. I do believe utterly that the world is full of kind, good, open-hearted people ... they just hardly ever make the headlines.

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  6. He only proves that one can never judge a book by its cover. What a remarkable young man.

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  7. I just bought a book written by a man who walked across America. I have so much admiration for someone who tackles such a task and sticks to it. What a treat for you to meet him. I'll bet he is full of stories and some may include that nice couple he met in Ca who took time to notice. Loved this post.

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  8. I've done what I call long-distance walks - about 200 miles or so - and can't imagine what it's like to walk across a continent. Well done, young man.

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  9. Muffy-- It's true. We could have looked away, and not looked back.

    Arkansas Patti-- I would love to read that book. I read something last year by a reporter who walked out his front door without a penny in his pocket and planned to hitchhike his way across country. The book is called The Kindness of Strangers. It's a great read.

    John-- Two hundred miles is a very long walk. I had a nice conversation Facebook with some friends who have been fantasizing about taking walks like yours and this young man's. I would love a world where there was more long distance walking. It might make the world seem a little smaller and kinder.

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  10. Oh, the places you'll go! This young man certainly took those words to heart.

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  11. Open hearts like yours (and his) could save the world. Big sigh.

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  12. NCmountainwoman-- It is amazing how a chance encounter can enrich our lives.

    Annie-- I once thought we (all of us) could save the world, but now I look at the future and wonder if we'll be able to save anything at all. Big sigh.

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  13. It's wonderful what an open heart can let you experience.

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  14. Mark P-- Stephen was a good reminder of how important that open heart can be.

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  15. I would have asked him to wait a bit, returned to my house for the five dollars for a good cause .....

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  16. Robin Andrea and Roger: Here's something you might want to consider (just a thought). A fellow named Dorian Anderson is doing a Big Year (of birding) by bicycling from the East Coast to the West Coast and back. In the process, he's raising money for bird conservation by taking online donations. Dorian is posting about his adventure on a blog called Biking for Birds (bikingforbirds.blogspot.com), and I've been following his exploits since the spring. He often lodges with generous, interesting people along his route to save money, and he's headed your way. Currently, he's in Cannon Beach, Oregon, and is biking down the coast, with the intention of stopping in Arcata. If you'd be interested in hosting him for a night, he'd appreciate it (unless he has already made other arrangements in the area). You can contact Dorian at bikingforbirds@gmail.com if you're interested. Disclaimer: If he turns out to be a serial killer, I absolve myself of any liability!

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  17. Friedl-- That would have been a GREAT thing to do. Wish we had thought of it in the moment.

    Scott-- Thank you for the link. Dorian is on a such an interesting journey. I love when people do stuff like this. We may contact him and see if he would like to stay with us while he's here in Arcata. What an excellent idea.

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