The Last Walkerby Larry DeAngelo on 07/04/17
The Last Walker
May 17, 2017
This year thousands of people came to participate in the NAMIWALK Massachusetts at Artesani Park in Boston to raise their voice in opposition to stigma and the resulting discrimination toward people living with mental illness. And, he walked again, The Last Walker.
My job, as a member of the volunteer safety team, is to drive one of the safety cars that circles the walk route looking for walkers who may be having difficulty and need assistance. For the past three years, I see him after most of the walkers have completed the Walk. Regardless of the weather, dressed in a heavy black coat and dark hat, he meanders along the walk route. An older man, he shuffles rather than walks, occasionally totters as if he will fall, then recovers and moves slowly forward.
Occasionally, he will stop, drink from a plastic bottle of water, return the bottle to his coat pocket, look to and fro, as if confused, regain composure, and return to his journey. He starts the Walk with others but is soon abandoned by his colleagues. He moves too slowly for their passion and enthusiasm. He is always the last walker to cross the finish line. No one cheers him on. No one congratulates him.
Each year I stop the safety car near his route and ask, “Can I help you?” He always smiles and waves me off. But for some reason I am not satisfied. I ask again, “Can I help you?” The second response is always an exaggerated, irritated wave off. Why is it that I am so insistent on helping this person who obviously does not need or want my help? Am I trying to help him or am I trying to help myself?
Why is it that he walks alone? Is it because he is different from most? The walk is not timed. Isn’t there one person who would want to share his victory with him? Why don’t we have the patience to wait for every walker to finish the walk?
We can learn from him: Everyone should have the opportunity to fail. Capacity may be inversely related to courage. We have not eliminated discrimination at NAMI. To win may not be as important as to achieve.
The Walk is a victory for all who participate. Maybe next year I will get out of the safety car, walk with him, and share his victory.