Europe N to S: Show Don’t Tell (9/23/16)

Today’s Miles: 27.4

Total Miles: 1,794

Näsudden – September 23, 2016

The wood beams holding the railroad tracks are spaced too close together for my legs. I shuffle along from beam to beam with stunted little steps until I give up on the tracks and turn down a quiet two-lane road.

A light rain falls and I throw my poncho over my pack and walk on. The road is almost empty. Most drivers come to me alone and slide over to the far lane as I give them a little wave or nod. Some barely deign to give me a foot.

I eat breakfast in the shelter of a bus stop. The little roof is a palace in the rain, letting me spread raspberry jam over my bread without fear of wet or cold. Then I walk on.

I don’t pay more than a quick glance behind me at traffic in the far lane, knowing there is plenty of room. But I listen and make a game of guessing the type of car or truck that will fly past.

“Car, small car, truck,” I think as I walk.

I hear a gentle horn beep twice and the sound of breaks and an engine rumbling down. I turn and see a bus slowing. I look for a stop and find none as the bus rolls to a halt in the far lane. The driver waves at me through the window and I wave back and shake my head to let him know I don’t need a ride.

The bus doesn’t move.

The window slides open and the driver’s meaty arm shoots out to wave me over. He is a big man with a big smile. He says something in Swedish, sees my confusion and switches to English.

“Come, come,” he says. “I will give you a ride.”

He saw me walking as he passed the other way and saw me walking still as he came back.

I shake my head again.

“No,” I say. “I have to walk.”

His eyebrows raise in surprise. He thinks for a moment, then his face lights up again as if figuring it out.

“Free,” he says. “No charge, I take you.”

I smile again, but shake my head, sad to turn down his kindness. It’s not the cost that worries me, it’s the line of unbroken steps to Kinnarodden.

“I have to walk,” I say again. “The whole way. I’m walking to Spain.”

A smile breaks across his face. His eyes are bright and full of life. He nods at me, wishes me luck, and slides the window closed as the bus rumbles back to life and disappears around a bend.

I watch him go, a smile on my lips as I pull my hood tight against the rain and marvel in the selfless kindness of the driver.

The day drifts on. I stop in a town for a bit of food again. The grocery store is giant and I almost feel lost in the aisles as I try not to buy too much.

“Just a few days,” I think. “Just a few days. There are more towns here in the South.”

I spend an hour in the library, catching up on email and sharing a table with a family of immigrants who are kind enough to ignore the days of sweat that linger on my skin and clothes. They look happy, a father and son, mother and daughter. 

I think of my friend Elin who helps teach immigrants Swedish and the ride I caught a few weeks ago with a man who mentored kids arriving without families. I think of my good friend Julie who finds hours between being a full-time student, her part-time job, and applying to law school to help refugees navigate paperwork and find a place for themselves in a new land. I think of my dad’s family arriving from Cuba and the teacher that took him under her wing and made sure the weight of everything didn’t crush him.

The library closes and I slip forward on a side road, where I meet an older woman in a pink tracksuit out for a walk. She asks me where I am going and I tell her I just stopped in town for food and am walking to Spain.

She looks at me with a discerning eye and conjures up her best mothering voice to tell me that I should eat better than the bag of potato chips in my hand if I want to make it to Spain.

“They are just calories,” she scolds. “Nothing else in them.”

I hang my head, knowing she is right, and swear to her that it is only an indulgence and there is better food in my backpack. She smiles at me and wishes me luck.

I watch a string of cars pass as I walk the quiet highway again. One stops in the distance, a stubby blue van. A man in a green jacket gets out and leaves his van parked half in the pavement as he crosses the road and waits for me.

I watch him as I walk. I guess that he is going to offer me a ride. I think of the bus driver and now this man in the green jacket and wish they could have found me on one of the hundred times I’ve been looking for a ride in or out of town. He asks where I am going and I tell him.

“But where now in Sweden?” he asks.

“To the coast somewhere,” I answer. “I haven’t figured it out, but I’ll have to take a ferry to reach Denmark at some point since I can’t walk on water.”

His eyes gleam.

“No, only the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can walk on water,” he says.

I laugh.

“Maybe I can find a kayak then,” I say.

The man looks at me and squeezes the pamphlet in his hand.

“Do you know Jesus Christ,” he asks.

A horn blazes angrily and the driver scowls at me. The parked van is forcing a string of traffic to stop and move around it one by one. I look at the driver and shrug helplessly as the man in the green jacket waves off the commotion and continues on about the end of days that is fast approaching and about the war in Syria and that only God can stop it and save the refugees.

I smirk.

Poor God, I think, to have it all laid at his feet when it is fully in man’s power to stop wars, to find peace, to overcome fear and prejudice, to welcome and care for each other as fellow human beings, to do to others what we would have done to ourselves.

It’s too easy to leave all the problems to God.

It’s an excuse to do nothing.

The man rattles on. I silently apologize to the traffic squeezing by his van and think about the bus that stopped earlier. This man in the green jacket is full of words about Jesus. That bus driver was full or actions.

He wore no cross. He never mentioned God as he leaned out the bus window and waved for me to get in. I don’t know what he believed, nor does it matter, but I wonder who is closer to Christ, the person preaching about Jesus or the person demonstrating his words.

9 thoughts on “Europe N to S: Show Don’t Tell (9/23/16)

  1. As is nearly always true in life, it’s our actions that matter Daniel! I suspect your instinct is correct that the kind and gentle bus driver is far closer on a daily basis to Christ than the proselytizer in the green jacket was.

  2. Love your stories! It’s so interesting to hear about all the different kinds of people you are meeting on your journey.

  3. The name of that teacher (5th Grade) was Mrs. Elaine Smaleck. Her kindness and understanding I will never forget. She was like that bus driver and motivated only by compassion and love for one another. A salute and a loving thank you to all the superb teachers in the world. Great writing D.

    1. I am deeply touched by your remarks. My mom is or was Elaine Smaleck. she was a great teacher. I am crying right now!!!

  4. Love this! Great contrast drawn in this story, Your descriptions are wonderful and it is so easy to see all the characters as though watching a video.

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