Dignity

I was 10 (-ish).  I was walking with my father, tracing the banks of the Humber River in mid-summer.  It was hot and we had been at the chore for a while.  We were well south of the Dundas Bridge on the east shore of the river.  We had made our way through Lambton Park, down the hill to the riverbank, and then followed its course towards the Old Mill.

At that time, in that place, walking was not a means to any obvious end.  It had nothing to do with point A or point B.  It was a means to something else entirely.  Walking was part ritual, part healthy lifestyle.  “Going for a walk” filled the space between Sunday morning church and Sunday evening dinner.  It was simply what we did, often and with pleasure.  My father was quick to point out that he had “Walked halfway across Europe in ‘44 and it had done him no harm at all.” (if you discount the small detail that it got him shot.  As an officer, I suspect a good part of that European trek was in the right-hand seat of a jeep – but better not to point that out.)

The park was host to the usual assortment: couples, kids, seniors on benches, nothing remarkable.  A single figure meandered into view on what seemed to be an intercept course.  He wasn’t quite disreputable; more what you might call down-on-his-luck.   He was a bit grizzled, collar and cuffs frayed and he had items for sale; pencils, a few bandages and gauze that he offered as a first-aid kit.  I don’t know what prompted my father to pause, take a deep breath, then meet his gaze rather than pass on.  There may have been something about his eyes or in his manner.  It could have been a badge or a ribbon on his breast pocket.  It was a long time ago and I’m not certain.  This was 1958 (-ish) and the world was still teeming with walking wounded.  Some bore crutches and others, wounds less obvious.  You couldn’t fool my father on this particular matter.  This gentleman had seen service.  Regimental affiliations were exchanged, a few words about common places or shared experiences and a few nods to the change in fortunes between then and now.

The stranger drifted away with a few of my Father’s dollars while we continued our walk.  Dad accepted a pencil to maintain the dignity of the exchange, but I believe that’s all he kept.  The lesson lay in what he gave and it wasn’t the cash. 

Going for a walk is more than starting here and ending there. 

It’s where we teach our children.

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