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?
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    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.”)
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    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?
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    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.)
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    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.
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    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.

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."