He carried a huge red and white golf umbrella over his head to shade his pale skin from the Arizona sun. He was short, well-built, with a mop of curly, flaming red hair flying in the breeze as he hurried down the side of the road. I wanted to ask his name and where he was going, but I never did.
I would spot him from time to time as I drove into the city, walking fast, eyes focused straight ahead, sometimes northbound and sometimes heading south, putting on the miles up and down the highway as I sped by on my way to something important. What was his story?
At some point, I realized I’d stopped seeing him. This was after several years of random sightings. And then one day, there was a new walker. A woman wearing a colorful, period dresses with high, lace-up shoes and a parasol over her head. She, too, was walking down the side of the highway with no apparent interest in being given a ride, just walking with a quick and steady stride, going who knows where.
I called her the umbrella lady, not knowing her name. Her outfits and umbrellas were different every time I saw her, but always of the same style. Colorful. Flamboyant. Stylish and carefully put together. You could sense that she loved dressing up, and she certainly seemed to love walking.
She lived for a time in a little trailer park in my town, so I saw her frequently. Never out just shopping or hanging out, though. Always walking down the main highway in the mornings as I drove to work, and sometimes returning home again in the evenings as I left for home. Where she went, or why, I had no idea; and I never asked.
More than once I wanted to park my car and walk with her, but I sensed that would be unwelcome, so I never did. She was a mystery and remained a mystery.
I had not seen her for a very long time, years, when I read a few weeks ago that she had been hit by a car and seriously injured. The story referred to her as the “umbrella lady,” because I wasn’t alone in giving her that nickname. Her real name was Lydia Reis, according to reports, and she died in the hospital from her injuries a few days later.
Very little is known for certain about her, but people enjoyed seeing her out on the roads walking, and many expressed grief to hear that she had been killed. The details of her life and the reasons she walked the roads were not made public. I suspect no one knew her well enough to be able to say for certain.
Just yesterday I passed a man carrying a heavy backpack topped by a bedroll hiking north on the main highway. I pass hundreds of people in cars everyday without a second thought, but perhaps people on foot catch my attention because they seem more vulnerable, especially when they seem to be carrying all of their possessions on their backs.
As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”Luke 9:57-58 (NLT)
But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”
The accounts of Jesus in the Gospels give the impression that he was frequently on the road, walking from one town to the other, from one opportunity to show himself and explain himself to another. He was never shy about revealing his thoughts and concerns to anyone who would listen, but he was pretty cagey about revealing his ultimate destination on Calvary until near the very end.
He was a walker in an age when most people traveled on foot, and as he walked, his disciples in tow, others would join with them for a time for the chance to hear what he had to say. He was known as an exceptionally wise Rabbi, maybe a prophet, a man with the power to perform miracles, and something of a troublemaker because of his very direct and often controversial teachings. He attracted a crowd and the crowd often asked him: “Where are you going?” and “Who are you?”
In John 1:39, a couple of guys ask him where he’s staying. “Come and see,” Jesus replied.
Which is what he says to us today. Join me. Walk with me. Come and see where I am going. Listen and learn who I am. Get out of your car for awhile, slow down a bit, and take a walk with me.
Photo credits: Lorie Seliquini Jewett