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Authentic Eagles: Carolyn Barrett On Walking

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.

Carolyn Barrett, MCAS '16

I physically cannot walk. I’m the girl in the wheelchair who drives around campus just a little too fast. But hey, if it means I get to sleep for five more minutes, who can blame me?   

At 15 months old, I stopped crawling and was subsequently diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, type II. It’s a neuromuscular disease that affects everything I do. When little kids ask me what’s wrong with me, I tell them that, simply speaking, my muscles don’t grow with my bones. I can’t lift more than a pound, and I can’t do much on my own. Think of a normal task that you do for yourself on any given day: chances are, I need help with it.

I’ve never walked, and I likely never will.

But for me, walking is so much more than the physical act of putting one foot in front of the other. There are so many other aspects of what it means to walk. Although I will probably never be able to do that physical act, what comes along with walking are some of my favorite things in the world. Walking—whether alone or with a friend—is a forward motion; it’s progress. Walking makes talking easier: there is something about moving forward that allows thoughts to flow more freely and more clearly. People don’t like to walk alone. They like to walk together, to talk about what they see, how they feel, and what they’re thinking. It is this sense of solidarity when walking that I think is something truly special.

I started walking to school when I was 12. I’m not sure how much I liked it at first. It meant that I had to get up earlier—which, as I’ve said, I am not fond of—and I hated having to bundle up until I looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. I remember always being just a little bit grumpy as we set off each morning, the sun in my eyes and my coat too big for me to move my arms.

Somewhere around seventh or eighth grade, I began to appreciate the gifts that walking to school gave me. For one, it gave me a reason to wake up, making the actual time spent in school much, much more enjoyable. But, more than that, it also fostered a space for my friends and me to share our thoughts of the day to come, the days that had passed, and whatever strange dreams we had had overnight. On the 20-minute walk to school, there were no distractions, nothing else we should be doing. It was just a time to talk—and talk we did. We talked about the boys we liked. We talked about the fights we had with our parents. We talked about our homework. But what impacted me the most was the times we talked about our days and what we were feeling. I learned how to have difficult conversations on those streets between school and home—how to be upset and how to comfort someone when I had no way to fix things.

As the years went on, we stopped walking to school. Some of us went to private school, and the high school was further away for those who didn't. Despite this, my best friend and I continued to take walks, with our morning strolls to school replaced by afternoon excursions with my dog. As a teenager, I wasn't too keen on my daily responsibility of walking the dog, so adding Kate to the routine made it a win-win situation. I hated walking alone, and she enjoyed a productive break from homework.

Going on these walks taught me how to share things that I was scared of saying out loud. It taught me that dead air is sometimes productive and meaningful. It taught me how to listen and how to be invested in people’s unique experiences. It taught me how to compromise. Kate and I always met at the halfway point between our houses. I would text her, “Wanna walk?” “Corner?,” she would respond. “In 15,” I’d confirm.

Going for a walk never solved any of my problems, yet, at the same time, it fixed them all. There is something so meaningful and profound about just being heard and understood. We would sometimes circle the neighborhood for hours. I laughed the most while taking walks, and I cried more than ever on those street corners. Kate and I didn't always know what to say to each other, but we just kept walking. Sometimes all you need is someone to stand by you, someone to push you along with the current.

Walks weren’t something that we confined to home or each other. I love to walk around the Res with my friends at BC—to take laps around campus late at night when being inside of the library seems to be too suffocating for me. Some of my favorite and most meaningful moments on this campus have taken place while circling Lower when it seemed that everything was too much. I love the way that taking a walk not only releases the tension from a friend's shoulders, but creates a bond between the two of us. We’ve never solved anyone’s problems by leaving our dorms and walking around for hours at a time; yet, upon returning home, things always feel just a little bit easier.

I know that I’m never going to walk alone, even if I never walk at all. That’s what keeps all of us going. It’s the solidarity that matters.

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