Moving Right Along by George Merrill


I am thinking about motion; the simple act of walking from here to there. I take it for granted. Mobility is the elixir of life.

I’m thinking about this while sitting on a stretch of land on the east coast of Puerto Rico. I am looking outward where the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea meet. A fresh wind is blowing out of the North East; the sea is heaving, relentlessly. The wind nicks the tops off waves turning their crests into horizontal streams of mist. The sky is deep blue. Overhead, the clouds billow like whipped cream. I feel quiet and still, but in fact, everything around me shimmers with energy and motion.

I turn my attention to two little boys. They catch my eye. They are playing catch with their mother. They pitch a ball back and forth; the older boy gleefully picks it up. His younger brother, even as he makes his legs go at maximum speed, is always outrun by big brother. Mom deftly intervenes to be sure younger brother stays in the game.

What’s striking to me in these two vignettes is motion; motion serves us as pleasure and purpose. I think children run or skip everywhere because it enhances the invigorating sensation of motion, the feeling that we’re going somewhere; we’re on the move.

Few of us can abide the feeling of being stuck. Mobility is most of what keeps us going. We enhance our mobility with cars, bikes, wheel chairs, skates, planes, escalators, trains and even canes. And then there’s the intoxicating rush we actively seek at carnivals; the expansive view from the Ferris wheel at its zenith, the parachute jump as it falls, the bumper cars, and on the tracks where, in little seats, we’re propelled on twists and turns while traveling at terrifying speeds. Breakneck speed offers some big kicks, if not terror.

In an article I read years ago, a physician commented on the importance for aging people of maintaining their mobility. He put it strongly; don’t worry as much about heart disease and cancer (the diseases common to the aging), but be careful to maintain mobility. Make it a priority. Getting around is one of life’s biggest deals.

I suspect at the heart of the universe, deep in the essence of our being, there is a still point. Poets refer to it as the place around which everything else turns. When we have access to the still point (meditators will say they gain it momentarily) it’s from there we can discern not only movement, but the direction it’s taking. When we manage to get caught up in dizzying speed, it’s easy to lose one’s sense of direction.

It’s curious how I don’t feel the roughly one thousand MPH the earth spins (at the equator) under my feet every day. Probably just as well.

There are two kinds of mobility I find especially pleasing. They are the kinds of movement that liberate; they take me away from a place of being stuck to one of feeling released. Being stalled in traffic is a classic.

I remember being stuck in the mother of all traffic jams one summer on the Bay Bridge. I was stuck for three hours, occasionally moving what seemed like inches at a time. After the first hour and a half I was sure I would languish and die there before ever reaching Annapolis and my bones would turn to dust in the summer heat and I would be swept off the bridge to finally rest in the Chesapeake. Three quarters of the way across, traffic began to move, first sporadically, varying between five and ten miles an hour, then finally fifty and sixty. Even the five and ten mile an hour reprieve left me feeling as though I’d been delivered. I felt pure joy; I was moving again.

There’s another kind of movement in life. I felt it once when I achieved what I thought I’d never be able to do – build anything with a hammer, nails, screwdriver, etc. I was a disaster working with my hands.

I was well into my twenties when I discovered I could actually make things with my hands. My childhood had been a long series of failures and the abiding conviction that being handy was not my thing. It may not have been a problem, but the boy I hung out with was a whiz. He intimidated me. He could weld metal, make wooden race cars from old crates, knew his way around electricity sufficiently to wire a lamp and make a Morse Code set. I had come to terms with my liability and assumed whatever gifts I may have enjoyed from God’s beneficence, being handy was not one of them.

At the time, I was serving a parish in Manhattan. I liked the rector and he was easy to work with. He had many interests, one of which was woodworking. He’d made a workshop in the basement of the rectory.

There was a radiator in the living room of my apartment. It just stood there uncovered, paint peeling and unattractive. I mentioned to the rector that my radiator was an eyesore. “Why not make a radiator cover for it.” I looked at him as though he’d asked me to fly from the top of the Chrysler Building. “No, no, really, you can do it. I’ll show you how.”

Still feeling that I was entering a forbidden world, I went with him down into his workshop. He marched me through the basics of what was, indeed, comparatively simple and I began feeling the muted hope that I might be able to do it.

It’s hard for anyone to imagine being intimidated by three pine boards. There my trial lie awaiting me. The rector showed me how to secure the boards and make a frame in the front, onto which I could attach a sheet of filigree metal, effectively making a stylish but porous frontal that allowed the heat to escape. After I put the last screws into place, I painted it white. I can’t describe the pure of joy I felt on its completion except to say I was ecstatic.

The cover now in place, I relished in how I beautified my living space by my own handiwork. In fact, whenever I entered the living room my eyes went first to the radiator cover, paying silent homage to the living monument of the time when I’d moved on from a place where I’d once been stuck, to a better place.

I had overcome. It’s a form of deliverance.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

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