I Walk Without Ear Pods

 One of the Cowley brothers, several decades ago, was known to be a regular jogger along the Charles River that runs past their monastery in Cambridge, Mass. He wrote that he was the first of them to get a Walkman.
    Remember the Walkman? You put a cassette tape into it, and through headphones you could listen to the tape as you went about life.
    Remember cassette tapes?
    I read this (it was in a newsletter) just at the time I was trying to be more efficient, to get more things done in life. The thought of both listening to music (that I wanted to listen to) and exercising (which, in theory, I wanted to do) seemed really good. I rather envied that monk. (Not to mention his wit. He was in charge of their chanting in worship. “God may not care if you sing badly,” he wrote, “but I do.”)
    As it happened, I never got a Walkman. Part of the reason was that it seemed an invasion of nature. Around the same time, we were walking through a state park, and we passed a campsite where a radio was playing, loudly. My wife and I thought what a shame that was. These people had deliberately removed themselves from everyday civilization and were back in nature, camping outdoors, cooking outdoors (we smelled their firewood burning). But they had their music—and of course, everyone around heard their music. Isn’t leaving music behind part of the deal?
    The Walkman was bulky, and only did one thing. It was, however, silent to others, giving music to its wearer while not imposing on others around. Creating a sonic bubble, it opened a new way of going out into the world.
    We now have these little ear pod things—I think Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal has called them little hockey sticks. No wires needed, no cassettes, just a flyweight thing that comes with you. Our listening options are now nigh infinite. We can be anywhere and suffer no loss of freedom of choice: we can listen to anything we want.
    But it keeps seeming to me that although I could be anywhere, that same freedom means I end up being nowhere.
    On my daily jog (sometimes it’s merely a walk), I try to be present to what is there. What do I see? (The sky, just turning from black to blue.) What do I hear? (Bugs. A lonely bird. A distant car.) What do I feel? (My knee, stiff. The wind on my cheek.) What do I smell? (Occasionally, scent of flower or moisture of recent rain. Sometimes manure. Rosemary in a pot.) What do I taste? (Dry early morning mouth.)
    It looks, dear readers, like I will soon be off on a pilgrimage. For several weeks, my days will be full of walking in places I’ve never been before. Each day, I’m told, will be very simple. Get up. Repack. Walk. Find a place to sleep.
    A friend recently asked what I will think about during all that time of walking. It’s a great question, and I hope to write more about it. But one thing is clear: I won’t be thinking about stuff that comes in through ear pods.
    I want my ears (my eyes, my soul) to be open for whatever is there.
    Out & about. This Sunday, July 18, I am to preach at the traditional services at Incarnation in Dallas (7:30, 9:00, and 11:15am).
    We just passed the year’s anniversary of the release of my book, Friendship: The Heart of Being Human. Because of Covid, the reception has been muted (although it was short-listed for the Indie book award in theology). If you’ve read the book, could you spread the word, maybe give a copy to a friend, maybe leave an online review (e.g. at Amazon)? And if you haven’t read it yet, you can get it as an e-book all over the place, as well as in paper (not only Amazon, but Barnes and Noble, etc.). I think you can even get it from Target (online). ChristianBook.com remains an interesting alternative.
    I would delight to visit more parishes or reading groups, in person or by Zoom, to talk about it. Just drop me a line if you’d like to schedule something.

I Miss Them

Awhile back I wrote about a fellow I used to see on the Katy trail in the early morning. When I didn’t see him during Covid, I wondered what might have happened to him. Then he was back.
    But now he’s gone. He told me beforehand: he has moved to a home in the country. It was a good move.
    More recently, there was this couple. They are both retirement age, often walking early, even in the dark, with a large dog. The first time we talked was in May last year. They saw me with a Starbucks cup: it was the first morning our Starbucks was open again, and as it happened I had been led there either by dead reckoning or divine push, and indeed my cup was the first cup they served. You couldn’t stay, you had to order with the app, they brought it to you—but it was there.
    So I passed them, a couple with a dog that I had often seen, but we had never talked more than the passing Hi. “Starbucks is open?” they asked.
    Over the months we talked a little, sometimes, as the restrictions eased, in the Starbucks itself. He learned I was a priest. I learned he had been in the trucking business. Then one morning, not that long ago, he said they were going to Arizona. I said I hoped they enjoyed the visit. But no, the moving truck was coming.
    I miss them; there is now another little hole in my mornings.
    There was another fellow, a few years ago. His walk overlapped my run, and it ended at the Starbucks, where he sat for awhile. I hadn’t seen him for years, wasn’t sure I remembered his name correctly, wondered the same questions. Did he get through Covid? Had he moved?
    A few weeks ago he saw me in another coffee shop—Drip, a local place—and came over to say hi to me. It took me a minute to put the pieces together. He was healthy, doing well.
    I still don’t see him in the mornings, but it’s nice to know he’s around.
    Friendship is the most important thing in life. Which is why it hurts a bit not to be able to be friends with more people. There aren’t very many people that any of us can be friends with in the fullest sense. Friendship takes time.
    And yet, it is wonderful to be able to be friendly with people we meet. We greet them, we like seeing them, we know a wee bit about their lives. This too is important. I like to quote what Oliver O’Donovan says about “friendliness.” When we are friendly with people we are saying to them, in effect, that although we are not actually friends, if it should turn out in God’s providence (in this life or in the life to come) that we became friends, that would not be a bad thing.
    Out & about. This Sunday, July 11, I am to preach at St. James in Dallas at the morning Eucharists (8am and 10am).
    Still more on Texas. Last week I wrote that the “America” in the final stanza of “America, the Beautiful” is somehow the new Jerusalem; it is obviously not the actual America whose cities are still dimmed by human tears. A friend wrote in response:”If indeed somehow Texas is in the New Jerusalem, does that mean God will have messed with Texas?” You can see he’s a good friend. But: “Heaven forbid! I suppose you would say that Texas will finally truly be Texas, not so much messed with but realized.” Yes! He goes on, however: “And surely Austin will be kept weird, but a better sort of weird. That is, truly weird—for particular particulars, if they be particular, can’t be everywhere.” He concludes that “Don’t mess with Texas” and “Keep Austin weird” are prophetic: “in the new creation, Texas will be at its most unmessed-with and Austin will be at its weirdest.”
    At least he didn’t say that Austin will be at “his” weirdest. But who knows?

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."