Among the things I’ve always known about myself, one biggie is that I’ve never wanted a tattoo. Not that this was a tough choice when I was a young adult and only sailors and really hardcore punks got tattoos. But now that everyone’s doing it, I have had to reinforce several times in conversation with others that I never, ever, ever want to get a tattoo.
But a few months ago while I was out walking I thought about the Latin phrase “Solvitur Ambulando” and thought, “I wonder if I should get that tattooed on my ankle when I turn 50?”
“Solvitur Ambulando” means “It is solved by walking,” and the phrase is meaningful to me on a lot of levels. First, on a purely literal level. I believe a lot of life problems, mental and physical, can be solved by walking. Go for a walk and clear out the cobwebs. If you can’t do anything else at least get off the couch and go for a walk (no offense intended to those unable to walk, obviously). I’ve always enjoyed walking and as you know from this summer’s blogs I am trying to add more trail hiking into my routine as well. Walking solves a lot of problems.
But I also find it true on a metaphorical level, as a guide for how to get through life, especially as I’m definitely past the midpoint of that life thing now. When I think “It is solved by walking,” I think of a few of my favourite quotes:
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow
I learn by going where I have to go. (Theodore Roethke, “The Waking”)
We walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Travelers, there is no path. The path is made by walking. (Antonio Machado)
The (so far, very small handful of) people who’ve read my recent novel What You Want will recognize that two of those three quotes are sent to my character Megan by different people as she’s trying to figure out what to do next with her life. (I would have used all three quotes in the novel, but that’s what we in the business call Hitting the Reader Over the Head With the Theme, so I held back).
Although there’s a lot of me in every character I write about, Megan, in the novel, is very different from me in some key ways. At 23, she’s uncertain and doesn’t know what she really wants in life. When I was 23 I was absolutely certain about … well, almost everything. I knew what I wanted and how I was going to get it. Some people, like Megan, have to gradually figure out their life’s purpose. Others, like me, come out of the womb 100% sure of everything — and have to spend the rest of life unlearning all the things we thought we knew.
At 50, I am so much less sure of things than I was in my teens or twenties. I may not have thought I had all the answers then, but I certainly thought I had a lot of them and I knew where to find the others (not Google. We didn’t have Google then, children).
This is especially true for me in the spiritual realm. Half a lifetime ago, when I was 25, I thought I knew a lot about God, faith, the Bible and what God was calling me to do. Now I know almost none of that. I am figuring things out as I go. “Solvitur Ambulando” is more true for me in the walk of faith than anywhere else. I don’t know the answers. I don’t have the path all mapped out. But I won’t figure anything out by sitting down theorizing about it. I get out and try to live the life of faith. I put one foot in front of another. I show up trying to love God and love my neighbour and failing and learning. The path is made by walking.
It’s true in every other area of life too. When I was in my early 30s, becoming a parent was terrifying. I went to the hospital and these tiny people came out of my body and a couple of days later the nurses handed them over to me to take home as if Jason and I had any idea what to do with completely helpless infant humans! As if we knew how to keep them alive and make them grow up big and strong.
Now they are big and strong, almost adults, and — parenting is still completely terrifying. Even more so because they are making their own path by walking and I cannot guide or control as much as I used to! Everything is uncertain. Everything is scary. And the only way to learn anything — parenting, or teaching, or writing, or following God, or being a decent human being — is just to do it. To try and fail. To learn by going where I have to go.
I decided not to get a tattoo. There are a lot of good reasons for this but 98.7% have to do with my extreme dislike of pain. Instead, I found a wonderful jewellery artist (Etsy shop: WatchWords) who would custom-design this beautiful copper bracelet. It’s on my arm instead of my ankle, and I can look at it while I’m walking, or while I’m at the computer, or while I’m just trying to figure things out, and remind myself: I don’t have the answers. And I don’t have to. Just take the next step (by faith, not by sight). It is solved by walking.
This somehow makes turning 50 a bit less scary.