There is a place where the sidewalk ends And before the street begins, And there the grass grows soft and white, And there the sun burns crimson bright, And there the moon-bird rests from his flight To cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black And the dark street winds and bends. Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow, And watch where the chalk-white arrows go To the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow, And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go, For the children, they mark, and the children, they know The place where the sidewalk ends.
This is one of the most popular poems of much-loved American poet, Shel Silverstein, and for good reason. The poem bespeaks the mystery of living liturgically - both individually, communally and even ontologically. What does that mean? Like so much of Silverstein's work, the poem expresses a deep hopefulness, even in the presence of the place where "the smoke blows black, and the dark street winds and bends."
Regardless of the deep blackness one may live with, of the dreariness and even despair of daily life, there yet remains a place of unsullied wonder. It is in the place where the sidewalk ends - ie. where the journey ends, where the path runs out. It is the step into timelessness and eternity. There the grass grows "soft and white, the sun burns crimson bright." And look at the imagery Silverstein uses. The colors of crimson and white should immediately ring a bell in the mind of Catholics familiar with the devotion to the Divine Mercy, the blood and water that poured and pours forth from the heart of Jesus.
And how does one reach this place of the "moon-bird, " who rests from his flight, cooling in the peppermint wind. How does one reach this place of imagination and limitlessness? Two things are required: innocence and self-discipline. Living liturgically, at its heart, really means walking with the Lord, "in the cool of the evening," a reference to Genesis and how things were "in the beginning." On this side of the Fall, that requires patience, trust and self-discipline. What was once effortless now requires work. This work takes place externally, but more importantly internally. It requires our continual conversion, especially in the shadow of the "pits." In church speak, we call this "dying to self." Proper and appropriate self-discipline doesn't constrain us; it frees us. It frees us to walk and move and live deliberately, with a "walk that is measured and slow, " to the place where we want to go, instead of the place our feelings or circumstances or whatever other tornado of chaos may drive us. Self-discipline opens us to the possibility of renewed and reclaimed and transformed innocence, after experience.
This poem offers an image of one who has wrestled with deep, down sadness and darkness, and has emerged from it saying, almost as an echo of Anne Frank, in spite of everything, there is still innocence. In spite of everything, I still believe. And it is this innocence, symbolized by the children "who mark, and the children who know," this worldlessness, that in the end leads to triumph. And the greatness of this innocence is that we don't have to wait until we fully arrive at the place where the sidewalk ends to experience it.