Sidewalks and Shortcuts 

I grew up in the country. My childhood home was at the dead end of a long gravel road, surrounded by pastures and woods. We wore paths into the grass walking from our house to the barns, to the pond, and to the vegetable garden. There were chores for us to do, but there was also a great freedom in those years in the country. I first lived in an urban setting when I went away to college. Even then there were acres of woods and grass on campus to explore. The difference there was all the sidewalks.

One of the first things I noticed though, was how folks would ignore the sidewalks to cut across the grass or through the woods. We took the shortest routes, the easiest walks, the paths of least resistance going from class to class, to our dorms, or to the cafeteria. All those sidewalks were largely ignored as we made our way around campus. There’s a name for these footpaths we humans like to make. They’re called “desire lines.” I love that. Architects and planners have long been aware of our tendencies to cut corners and make our own trails. In Finland, it’s common for new buildings to go without sidewalks during their first year so that they can pave the desire lines made by the public. That seems logical and economical, too. But most landscapes, like my university, bear the marks of our walking choices when we ignore the sidewalks. 

I think of the paths I’ve followed in my own life. Without God, how far might I have wandered off into the wilderness? Even so, there have been times when I followed the wrong road. Sometimes my heart led me to a place I thought I desired, only to find out when I got there that it wasn’t at all what I’d imagined. Pretty pathways can lead to dark and dangerous places. I’ve lost friends to the allure of such journeys. We all have. The point about sidewalks and footpaths and desire lines is that they are all just means to an end. They are ways of getting from here to there. Some are more direct than others. Some are laid out for us by others, while some are the paths we make for ourselves, over the months and years of our lives. All have risks and rewards.  

What matters on our journey is that we don’t look down at our feet, but that we keep our eyes fixed on Christ. Some of us will be called to follow wandering footpaths and some will seek out sidewalks. I feel like there were many times that I walked in place, going nowhere. But I never went wrong when I kept my gaze on the Lord. He waited when I dawdled. He called me back when I got lost. And I was never alone, because He has given us His Church and His Sacraments to infuse us with grace and to keep us nourished for the journey. We have such a short time here and so much to see and to do. So many people to know and to love. So many summer sunsets and wintry snowstorms. Every second, every footfall is a chance to know love and to be love for others, to lend a helping hand, and to offer mercy and forgiveness. Much of the noise and confusion of the world fades to nothing when we remember Who made us, and that He made us for a purpose: love.  

“We’re all just walking each other home.”

           —-Ram Dass 


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Brian H. Gill
    Jun 05, 2017 @ 16:59:31

    Thoughtful. Also fun, since now I’ve encountered the phrase “desire lines,” and some Finnish planning philosophy. Good advice,too.


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