Long delayed in writing about my experience on April 6th, 2008, walking in a march in “real life” sponsored by the NYC based “Satya Graha Forum”. The march was the inaugural event of a month of activities surrounding the production of “The Satyagraha”, the Phillip Glass opera from 1977 that was being revived by The Metropolitan Opera here in New York. The march involved starting at any one of four gathering points, walking a few miles and circling Union Square Park with all four groups converging on the Gandhi statue at the Soutwest corner of the park for a rally and speeches.
Keep in mind this was the day after completing the 240 miles of the reenactment in Second Life and on the treadmill – I was tired! All the same, it was quite an amazing experience to break out of my daily regimen of walking at Eyebeam (indoors), sleeping, getting up the next day and walking again. I made my way to Houston and 2nd avenue to gather with my fellow marchers. I immediately found myself feeling very self-conscious and shy in only the way that gathering with a group of complete strangers can do to me. Oddly, this was the complete opposite of my behavior and demeanor within Second Life during the course of the reenactment where I was completely at ease in approaching others in the online space to chat and invite them to be my “friends” and perhaps join me in walking.
Such irony, I know. After spending the better part of the month chatting away with strangers online and with visitors to Eyebeam, gathering with a group of individuals to walk in real life I found completely terrifying! It was not until we started to walk, about a group of 15 of us, to where I relaxed a bit. Here is a picture of me with my fellow marchers as we made our way down 2nd avenue.
When we arrived at Union Square park I struck up a conversation with an Englishman who, it turns out, was one of the puppeteers working on “The Satyagraha” opera. I told him about my Salt March reenactment online and on the treadmill – we had quite a nice chat and he introduced me to several others on the march who were also involved in the opera production. We all gathered at the Gandhi statue, pictured here:
We listened to a number of short speeches, including one by Phillip Glass and Mark Kurlansky, the author of “Salt: A World History” – a book that had been recommended to me by one of the visitors to my performance at Eyebeam. Here are some of those gathered at the rally holding their signs:
I found the experience of marching in RL after spending my month in virtual space to be an incredibly appropriate way to close out the reenactment. The event provided an ideal setting for my seguey back into my everyday life – it was also an occasion for deep contemplation and another way to seek connections with others. There was something magical in both realms – the interaction and the gathering with others to walk – both similar. It was interesting in both this real world march and over the course of my reenactment, we were asked by passersby “what are you protesting?” – in both contexts, we answered, “we are not protesting anything, we are marching for Gandhi, for peace”. Amazing.
Now one month to the day of the end of the reenactment and this walk on the streets of New York City. I must say, I still feel a great sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that I did not anticipate in conceiving this project. I truly feel as though I made a significant journey on many different levels. Funny too, I really miss my MGandhi avatar…I became quite attached to him over the course of the walk. I’ve had a few pleading emails from friends made in Second Life to not kill Gandhi! I’ve wandered, without the treadmill, a few times over the past month, mostly to revisit and take note of some of the places I have been to online – but I just don’t yet feel comfortable “walking” Gandhi in Second Life without actually, physically walking with him on the treadmill. Perhaps this will change over time.