Monday, December 10, 2012

Ode to a "Shunpiker"

The airport was busy this morning, well before my 7:40 am flight. I was heading out to Bakersfield, then down to LA and back to Atlanta this week. That’s my itinerary after a week that included Bentonville Arkansas, Lakeland Florida, and Edina Minnesota; preceding a week that will include Boise, Idaho and San Francisco California. Wow, I get tired just writing those two sentences! Well it is in this context that I share this story. When I travel, Mondays being no exception, I try to pick up the N.Y. Times not only to catch up on the news and read the editorial pages (which I so love to do,) but to keep the art section and bring them home to my wife Jennie for the crossword puzzles. As I was reading the paper this morning, I spent a few extra moments on the obituary page for no specific reason. There were three large and very interesting obituaries that dominated the page, but one of the smaller obituaries caught my eye; in the first column there was a notice that included the word “shunpiker” in quotes. Well I needed to learn more!

The notice is on the passing of Mrs. Mary Pratt Barringer who had obviously lived a long, poignant, and significant life. Halfway through the obituary, the writer talks about her zest for life,

“Her zest for life was infectious. For her 50th college reunion she wrote: “It’s been
wonderful – aided and abetted by a husband whose curiosity is boundless and who
shares the non-directed way of life. We are “shunpikers”: we follow small roads in the
general direction of our desired destination. We frequently do not know precisely where
we are, and the time is usually longer than necessary, but enroute we see the wonders
on our way. We are not going too fast to miss the beauties of the roadside or the far
horizon, and the time spent covering the road has been worthwhile in itself.”

Powerful and beautiful prose, caught from a much unexpected source!

The combination of my ridiculous travel schedule and the normal frenetic tone of the holiday season has lead me to a funk this year, having a very short-term focus and possibly an even shorter fuse than normal. I certainly feel a long way from Mrs. Barringer’s “shunpiker,” losing track of time and intentionally taking the slower route on the intended journey. Indeed the final sentence of her quote feels like a challenge not only in this holiday season but in this phase of life. When she writes that “We are not going too fast to miss the beauties of the road or the far horizon,” I can almost read the unwritten challenge for all of us, “are you?”

As I head into the weeks ahead, still filled with numerous meetings, contracts, cities and obligations to accomplish before Christmas Eve, I am going to endeavor to keep Mrs. Barringer’s words close to mind. Join with me in the days ahead and find some ways, small or large, personal or professional, to be a bit more of a “shunpiker”

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