The first time Ginger and I came to Boston together was in May of 1989. We had been dating a little over four months. I attended a youth ministry seminar at Princeton Seminary and tacked on a week of vacation so I could hang out in Beantown. My mother was so excited that I was dating someone that she gave Ginger frequent flyer miles to come meet me here. We had friends who lived just outside the city and we stayed with them. Ginger left on Sunday morning and I was not going home until Monday. After I took her to the airport, I rode the T (our subway) back to Park Street Station and came up into the middle of some sort of giant celebration, which I soon found out was The Walk for Hunger, a longstanding Boston tradition. I bought a T-shirt (my default purchase most anywhere I am) and got Ginger some shoestrings for her high tops. Then I sat down on the grass of Boston Common and watched the people cross the finish line.
Today marked the tenth time Ginger and I have joined the walk since we moved to New England. According to the web site, over 43,000 people walked today. Here’s the real kicker: it’s a twenty mile walk. The main reason we have not walked more often is it’s always on the first Sunday in May and begins around seven or eight in the morning. When Ginger was serving the church in Winchester, she came up with the idea of a “worshippers’ walk” to allow us to keep our commitment to church and to social justice in our community, asking people to pledge as they would for someone doing all twenty miles. After our service, we would take a bus to Newton Corners and join the walk with about eleven miles to go. As Ginger loves to point out, my favorite thing to do is walk far enough away from the bus to not be connected to it and then say, “Man, this is great; I hardly feel like I’ve been walking at all,” as we join the folks who’ve already got nine miles behind them. It cracks me up every year.
Ginger brought the tradition with her to Marshfield and we have a regular group that walks every year. With the exception of our being in Turkey during May last year, she and I have been on every Walk since we moved to the South Shore. Our regular crew went without us last year. One of them reminded us today that ten walks means we’ve logged a hundred miles in our fight against hunger in Eastern Massachusetts. And we were in good company. The seemingly endless train of people was as diverse as their fashion senses. We saw girls walking arm in arm, sharing the headphones on a single iPod, groups from both urban and suburban schools and churches, parents pushing strollers, families marking a tradition together, and some folks just walking by themselves for the cause. I learned after we finished the walk today that the Project Bread people have also become more tech savvy, making it possible for people to gather contributions on line. If you would like to contribute to my walk, you can do so here.
Ginger and I try to walk together as often as we can. We don’t go eleven miles everyday, but we do have a pretty good three and a half mile loop through our neighborhood, including a walk down the beach if the tide’s out. Besides the physical payoff, I’ve learned there’s something that happens when we walk and talk. Somehow the feelings I verbalize find expression in my feet as well, giving me a new sense of the word “grounded.” There is something spiritual, even visceral, that happens in the combination of physical and emotional exercise.
Maybe that’s why there are so many walks these days: organizations are looking for more than a financial connection. That the Walk for Hunger is twenty miles long is also part of both its genius and its effectiveness. You have to be serious to take it on. Even the eleven miles is a challenge. Often when we try to recruit people for our causes (or our churches) we do so by trying to show them how little what we are asking them to do will require, as if “it’s not that big a deal” is an attractive invitation. The walk has shown for almost forty years that people want to be challenged to let their compassion cost them something. As we walked on pavement and through parks, each step helped to create a grounding solidarity with the poor and hungry in our state, whose numbers are growing daily.
Ginger preached today on Jesus’ words, “Love everyone as I have loved you.” The Walk seems to me to be an incarnational example of his command. Love that has hands and feet can make a difference. We walked and talked and laughed and ached and rubbed blisters on our feet so someone else who is hungry could eat. Each step grounded us in the earth beneath our feet and the grace that undergirds all of creation.
Not bad for a Sunday afternoon stroll.
PS — Project Bread has a sense of humor, too. Here’s a clip from The Daily Show they have on their web site.