A Good Walk Home
When I was young, we walked. It seems to me now that we walked everywhere. We walked to and from school. We walked to our friends’ homes, and I distinctly remember walking to my grandparents’ house on the other side of town. We walked to fields of dreams where we chose teams and played our games. We walked to the neighborhood store and plunked down our nickels and dimes to buy candy, pop, and baseball cards. We walked downtown, to church for choir practice after school, and to the pool in summer. We got to baseball practice by walking, and we carried basketballs under our arms as we walked to the courts at the park. We leaned fishing poles on our shoulders as we walked to the banks of the river just above the dam in hopes of catching some bullheads or catfish. We walked to the record store to pick up that week’s Top 40 list and—when we had saved up enough—to buy the latest 45. Sometimes we rode our bikes, but mostly we walked.
We walked on streets and sidewalks, through grassy fields and mown lawns. One childhood house where I lived was connected to the entire neighborhood by a string of backyards uninterrupted by fences or barriers of any kind (there were fewer fences then), and the neighbors kindly let us treat it as a thoroughfare and playground. We could walk up and down the brick street in front or through the yards in back and get most anywhere children would want to be.
As we got older, we continued to walk but with new companions. It was then that we walked the neighborhoods with girlfriends and boyfriends, in mixed groups of those who were going steady and those who hoped to be soon. As time went on, some escaped the group in pairs and walked as couples, exploring youthful dreams and timeless mysteries together.
A good deal of our walking in those days was aimless. We were just “walking around,” we told our parents. But whether we went to a certain destination or not or for a particular purpose or not, eventually it came time for us to walk home. At some point we came back around; the walk was complete; we said goodbye and then bounded up the steps and through the screen door. We were home.
This book is about the walk home.
Whether simply on account of advanced age or through a terminal diagnosis you have received, you have reached a place in your life where you know you’re on the way home. You are on the final leg of your life’s journey. You will soon pass through a door called “death” and be home. Your home may be across town—a good long trek—or it could be a few streets away or perhaps just around the next corner. It may even be in sight, and in a few steps the door will beckon. Soon you will say goodbye to those with whom you’ve journeyed through life, go through that door we call “death,” and enter another reality. You will be home.
My purpose in this book is to accompany you on this homeward portion of your walk. I would count it a privilege to be your companion, to help you think through what a “good walk home” might look like for you.
Henri Nouwen once wrote:
Is death something so terrible and absurd that we are better off not thinking or talking about it? Is death such an undesirable part of our existence that we are better off acting as if it were not real? Is death such an absolute end of all our thoughts and actions that we simply cannot face it? Or is it possible to befriend our dying gradually and live open to it, trusting that we have nothing to fear? Is it possible to prepare for our death with the same attentiveness that our parents had in preparing for our birth? Can we wait for our death as for a friend who wants to welcome us home?
• Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift
In my daily work, I serve as a hospice chaplain. I work with individuals and their families who find themselves at this stage of life. The older I get, the more I discover that each of life’s seasons has its own path, its own challenges, and its own rewards. The “end of life” season is no different, and I think it is important that we give it some attention since we are all going to have to make that journey.
…If you are aware that you are in the final season of life, then you may consider yourself blessed indeed. It may sound strange, but this can be a gift, for such knowledge may bring a new clarity—the stakes are clear, and the ending point is understood. Like all who came before you and all who will come after you, you will die, and this is no longer a theoretical concept to you. You are actually on the way home, so it is time to plan for “a good walk home.” You have been granted a season in which, by God’s grace and the loving assistance of others, you can craft a fruitful and peaceful conclusion to your life’s journey. To that end, I wrote this book for you.
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Walking Home Together
By Michael Mercer
Twenty-Third Publications, 2016