Telephone Poles, Fence Posts and Railroad Ties

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I routinely make the mistake of downloading hundreds of podcasts to my iPhone because I have no clue how to successfully navigate the new iTunes interface. The old one was fine and I am slow to change. So be it. (Yes, I am a curmudgeon in training.)

One of my favorite podcasts is This American Life by Ira Glass. Since it usually airs on Sunday afternoons I rarely hear it live so the podcast is a God-send. Scrolling through my hundreds of unlistened-to recordings in the car the other day I came across this one: Episode 494 – Hit the Road. The first story is of a young man, Andrew Forsthoefel, who decides upon losing his job to walk from Philadelphia to the Pacific Ocean wearing a sign that says “Walking to Listen.” It’s an incredible, beautifully told adventure and one you deserve to hear for plenty of reasons and especially for his interview with a man named Otho Rogers of Melrose, NM.

At age 73, Mr. Rogers reflects ruefully and honestly on the passage of time and his personal loss of physical ability. You ache with him when he describes the shame of having to climb a fence rail to mount his horse when all he wants is to be able to get his foot in the stirrup and haul himself up the way he used to do without a thought or a care.

Mr. Rogers thoughtfully describes our shifting perspective on time as the difference between viewing telephone poles, fence posts and railroad ties as you drive along the road. The longer we live the less space there is between each marker and that the accelerating vehicle that is our life in the span of time gets moving so quickly that the railroad ties of everyday existence become a blur of activity speeding to the certainty of our final moments.

We come to know in a real and often painful way that time is both unstoppable and completely unsympathetic to our plight: that we have what we have and how we spend it is completely up to us.

And to that end, Mr. Forsthoefel shares his own response to a question he asked of many people he met during his journey: what advice would you give to your younger self?

His answer is a guide for all of us, whether we are counting by poles, posts or ties.

You know exactly what to do.

There’s no need to be afraid.

Keep walking.

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