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One step forward, one step back

<p>Duke Gardens' fall plant sale this Saturday will help sponsor student summer internships in horticulture. &nbsp;</p>

Duke Gardens' fall plant sale this Saturday will help sponsor student summer internships in horticulture.  

Walking is one thing I love most about being at Duke: down long stretches of Campus Drive, under stone arches on West Campus, up and down the hills of the Al Buehler trail–but mostly, through the gardens.

While wandering through their maze, Duke felt the most right it ever has, as if the winding paths were leading me to exactly where I was supposed to be at exactly the right time. Maybe it’s because when I am walking, I feel more like myself than under any other circumstance. Walking feels like a devotion, a prayer with my feet. 

Today, though, I deviated from my usual routine: I went on a run. I laced up my shoes and turned up my music and kicked up a path of dust behind me.

I’m not graceful, and I’m not fast, but I keep going anyways, the cracks on the sidewalk giving rhythm to my strides.

It’s easier to move fast through the world without stopping and staring.

It’s also easier to move through the world by running away from difficult people and difficult situations. I can usually run far enough that there is distance between me and a problem, a way that I can leave behind my thoughts and frustrations and anxieties and focus only on the pavement and breathing in and out. In and out.

But in reality, running only works for a while.

Legs tire, muscles ache. And what then?

I walk. Deliberate and slow. Observant and careful.

The sidewalk no longer keeps time to my steps; instead I meander in circling patterns that seem to have no clear direction. The music no longer drowns out the world around me; instead I listen to the whispered hum of cars passing by and the sound of birds calling.

I walk so I can slow down the speed of the world and take it all in, at my own pace.

My thoughts wandered back to walking this week, but walking of a different kind. In training to become an orientation counselor, my FAC group did an activity called a “privilege walk,” in which steps are taken forward and backward to demonstrate the advantages that a few have over many. Things like having two parents at home, a pantry full of food, and a house with books on the shelves.

To talk about privilege among a group of so many varied backgrounds brings an inherent discomfort. In most settings, we resort to metaphors to make it easier: a relay race with different starting lines, or a playing field in need of leveling.

But maybe walking is the most relevant, especially here at Duke.

The activity is meant to be a visual representation of our positions in life, and a way to examine the societal structures that placed us there. But in our discussion of these issues, we didn’t touch on why it’s called a walk in the first place.

One step forward, or one step back. These illuminate the privileges each of us carry, or lack, in a way that can be measured in tangible distances instead of abstract identity markers.

Maybe it’s uncomfortable to frame privilege as a walk because it means that we can’t run away from it.

I’ve had to slowly and deliberately come to terms with this the longer I’ve been at Duke–the fact that my privilege informs nearly everything I do here, and nearly every decision that brought me here.

I can try to outrun it, but catches up anyways. Walking–and with it, looking and thinking and listening–will be what leads to understanding where I might go from here upon graduation.

To walk is to notice all of the things around you at a heightened sense. To walk is realize how two feet carry the weight of your body. To walk is to realize that you don’t do it alone.

I think back on the last four years, on what I've really, truly needed. It wasn’t the prestige that comes from a Duke degree, or front-row spot in Cameron Indoor. It wasn’t a shiny resume or an A+ in Orgo II. 

What I needed was a pair of comfortable shoes and people who will walk beside me on the journey. 

Janie Booth is a Trinity senior. Her column usually runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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