A man died last week. He lived in our neighborhood. Until yesterday, I never met anyone who knew him. He was the Walking Man. Driving home from work, going to Trader Joe's or meeting friends for dinner, you'd turn the corner and there he was. Shirt off, holding a newspaper and moving at a steady clip. Practically everyone I know saw him on a regular basis year after year, but never talked to him. So when he died suddenly last week, why did it hit everyone hard? There was a big hole in our community that no one could define.
Almost immediately, a page appeared on facebook. There would be a memorial walk over the weekend. It turns out the guy that put it up never met him either.
It was in the paper, the controversy behind his death. Something we didn't know about the shirtless man everyone saw, but few talked to. People said that the walk might not happen, or that fewer people would come out because of the dark news. The hole in the community still needed to be defined, though, so lots of people showed up. Even the two Councilmembers form the area showed up.
So what I think happened is that the Walking Man, with that rhythmic pace on that repeating circuit punctuated by his sudden exit, transcended himself.
He was the constant for people in Silver Lake. Quiet but reliable. Peaceful but moving. As reliable as the end of your day, close to home, regrouping and preparing for tomorrow. But something you never had to address until now. When I read the article in the paper, it only made it more obvious that it wasn't the Walking Man that died, it was us. In whatever way we personally co-opted the Walking Man, he took that with him. That's the hole.
On Sunday, guys brought newspapers and took their shirts off. Families joined neighbors, retracing the Walking Man's steps. What I wonder is if anyone stepped back to seriously ask themselves what they were doing there. It's not unlike other times a city is thrown into tumult. But this time, the confusion was internal. Silver Lake has changed for people who have lived here for decades rather than years. It has changed a lot for people who have lived here years rather than months. People move into an area and start to redefine it for those who were there before. But everyone had the Walking Man. On Sunday, they all came out to see each other, and to walk, and maybe even talk. What will happen next?