An Encounter of a Different Kind
About three years ago I was walking along the seafront when I spotted a noticeably unusual figure at the horizon. It was just before Christmas and remarkably cold, yet the afternoon sun shone bright from a blue sky and all I could see through my squinting eyes was this black silhouette against the sun, and something was different about it. It looked almost like as if it was someone walking on sticks.
It was like a God from ancient history, emerging straight from the heavens, surrounded by blinding light, and he wore no shoes.
My nose was cold from the freezing December air and the rest of me was wrapped tightly in hat, gloves, scarf, boots and winter coat. Yet here was this odd figure walking past me, barefoot.
My curiosity rocketed and many thoughts, assumptions and judgements soared though my mind. The first concrete thought forming was that he could do with my wooly socks that I had just sorted out and I briefly considered asking him, but was held back by fear to insult him with my socially awkward questions.
He surely was on a mission, he didn’t have the aura of a mere homeless. I said to myself that should I see him again (what is the likelihood) I will ask him then.
However, three days later he happened to walk along the road I was living in just when I came back from work. In a rush of excitement and adrenaline I charged inside, picked up my wooly socks and ran after this mysterious person.
He was amused and acknowledged the gesture, but declined my socks. He said he is vegan and doesn’t believe in using any animal products. Working in a healthcare setting, my indoctrinated care program kicked in and I pointed out how important it is to keep his feet warm, but he replied that he had something in his bag to keep his feet warm at night.
I was curious to learn why he was walking around town barefoot and he said that there were many reasons. One was to keep in contact with the earth, considering that animals don’t wear shoes either. Anyhow, he said, shoes weren’t all that good for our feet, causing us many problems and most of the earth’s population does actually not wear shoes at all, or simply doesn’t have the money.
When I asked whether he had somewhere to stay and something to eat, he said he had plenty and that he offered to share the food he had on him with me. Humbled I declined.
Walking without shoes was like meditating, he said, because it makes you walk slower and more thoughtful, and he added that people with shoes tend to just stomp on the earth angrily without giving it a second thought. He also talked about the stars, walking underneath them, and the influence they have on us. He felt very connected to the earth and the skies.
I like walking barefoot, though usually only if it is warm enough, and there are many reasons why it is good for you: 125 Reasons To Go Barefoot
His main aim was to raise awareness toward climate change and he was soon off on his walk to Scotland to attend a convention on climate protection in May. Mind you, we were currently standing on the English south coast and he would walk all the way up to Scotland over the next four or five months!
Wow, what a life! His humble approach to life, yet with such great meaning, is inspiring. And now that the days are getting colder again he came back to mind and I wonder if he is still walking. In all seriousness, I look at so many out there running about to find the best option for a Christmas present, stomping on the ground with heavy winter boots, and all the while forgetting about the actual meaning behind it. I wish there was some more insight and simplicity behind some of their thoughts.
Many questions only came up after this strange encounter and were left unanswered. Who was he before he started walking? How long has he been walking? Will he ever get tired of it? What happened that made him who he is today?
He was like a real-life Jesus or, to keep it in the presence, Forrest Gump. This encounter reminded me of my thought to walk into the Himalaya. It always used to be, and probably still is, my emergency plan should I fail to find work and sustain accommodation and food. I would jokingly say: “If things don’t work out, I sell everything, pack a bag and start walking.” Destination Himalaya, the highest mountain range in the world.
Something in me connected to this man and a longing developed to be free from ties and responsibilities. A month later I actually booked myself onto a volunteer job to teach English at Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu, Nepal, surrounded by the Himalaya! Life never was the same again after.
Was it a coincidence, or just the way life goes?
Either way 😉