We take our first steps between the ages of 9 -12 months, the soft pads of our tiny feet supporting what little weight we have until we fall down onto fleshy palms, curious, eyes wide. Bigger, tougher hands hold ours between fingers that over the years have held so many things. Signed a thousand signatures with pens, drawn doodles with pencils. Poured emotions into letters that will never be posted. Smoked wanted and unwanted cigarettes, the stems of wine glasses filled with everything but wine. Played with hair, dogs hair, my hair, my mums hair, his hair. Hands that cover your mouth when you’re laughing when you shouldn’t be, that cover his mouth, hers, that cover other hands on laps, that cover your eyes when you don’t want people to see you’re crying. Then suddenly these hands that have been so important to you since your parents held them are now just as important to someone else, someone who is unknowingly putting the entirety of their trust into you. And together like that, you walk.
We run when we are young, we run for no reason at all apart from the fact that we can. We run across parks, down supermarket aisles, into glass doors…. and we laugh and smile and giggle as we do so. There is never a destination in mind; we are never running to anything or from anything or for any other reason than we have just have energy to kill. When we are little we run because our minds are light, like brand new bath sponges. If you gently blow on a sponge that’s resting on top of water it will glide softly, lighter than air. But as soon as you add pressure, start prodding it and pushing it, it’ll start to soak up the water surrounding it and become heavier and heavier until you’re left with something sodden and dark. Children run because their bones are not yet straining under the weighty heartache of adulthood.
When you’re a teenager, you have a number of different ‘walks’ depending on the type of person you are. You swagger, you dawdle, you race, you drag your feet. When you’re a teenager you’re trying your hardest to walk away from everything that has stopped you walking away in the past, whilst trying not to trip over the version of yourself that can now choose which direction to take. We walk to and from school (hopefully by now the blaring of awful chart music from phones on the way home via the corner shop has died a painful death) and we walk through shopping centres browsing things we wish we could afford. We walk to the swings where we sit with our first boyfriend or girlfriend, awkwardly trying to swing in sync so we can make small talk about the uselessness of the Pythagoras theory in everyday life. We walk home, teary eyed, to our mums and dads when said girlfriend or boyfriend has ditched us for someone else.
When we are in our early 20s we march. We march because there is always somewhere to be, for a certain time, in a certain place with certain people. Rushing to make an appointment, to catch public transport, to attend a lecture, a lunch. In your 20’s you march.
However when you’re not marching in your early 20’s, you’re still walking because by now you have realised that to walk is to move forward. To clear your head, to reorganise your thoughts and to keep your blood flowing when you can feel things are starting to block up. We walk away from situations because staying still causes deterioration, and even though sometimes it’s the hardest thing we have ever had to do we eventually realise that the earth is forever moving forward (1.3 million miles per hour, roughly) and we have absolutely no choice but to move with it. Somewhere on your path is the thing that you’ve been searching for this whole time, that makes the whole journey worth it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally retrace your steps; even just to look up at the stars for a second, even if just for the few moments of quiet before you fall asleep at night.
You’ll walk away from a hundred arguments, into a thousand pairs of arms. You’ll walk in the rain, in the sun, the dark, the cold, the wind, the snow. You’ll walk because you’re so fucking pissed off that you know you’ll do something you regret if you stop walking. You’ll walk because you’re content and to walk in contentment is to walk on clouds, like walking on the sea when it’s as smooth as liquid silver. You’ll walk because you need to give yourself time to come to a decision, to make up your mind about something. To think of a solution. Or you’ll walk because something simply demands to be thought about, with no outcome, nothing to fix or amend, just something painful that requires your attention; that needs to be diluted in order to be processed.
In your 30s, 40s and 50s, you pace. You pace linoleum floor hallways in hospitals waiting for new arrivals, for your life to start, or for final goodbyes, for the path on which you’re now pacing to narrow, to twist violently, unfairly. You pace across kitchen tiles waiting for people to come home, to fall asleep, to wake up. You pace across living rooms making long distance phone calls to people using professional language in foreign accents, sat in buildings whose walls separate them from cities that you couldn’t even begin to understand. You pace carpeted offices with the hopes of being heard and you pace back and forth from one side of the bedroom to the other explaining being heard to the only person who will listen.
In your 60s and 70s you stroll. You stroll peacefully and you stroll slowly because you have realised that nothing in life is worth rushing and if you could go back in time and tell your 20 year old self anything- it would be to quit the marching and to enjoy the journey. Leave five minutes earlier and allow yourself time to take note of your surroundings, because with each time you see something it’s one less time you’re going to see it again. You’d tell yourself to look into that person’s eyes a little deeper, to edge towards them a little bit closer, to watch them smile at you just a few more times and to listen to them sing just that little bit longer so that it’ll be etched in your memory. So that when you’re in your 60’s and 70’s and you’re strolling, you can close your eyes and hear their voice.
Shuffling is for your 80’s and your 90’s. When your joints are stiff and your muscles are weary and yet again you’re relying on bigger, stronger hands to support you. You shuffle from room to room, spaces where children who you swore were ten times more energetic than you can ever remember being at their age handed you cards with messily coloured in trees and animals on the fronts. Rooms where at one stage in your life you undressed in front of a person who reminded you that there is only ever one true happiness in life and that is to love and be loved; that there is nothing else that matters.
You shuffle past picture frames that are filled with the faces of your past that make your chest burn, and the ones that never made it into print but sit in the darker corners of your mind and give you butterflies in a stomach that still flutters despite your age. You shuffle to your bed, where you climb in just like you’ve been doing every single day since climbing was possible and you get comfy and everything around you falls silent. You close your eyes and you think back to what it was like when you were crawling, sprinting, skipping, running, pacing and strolling- and easily, without fear, you know that soon enough you’ll know what it feels like to fly.
Life is fleeting. Live it.