NASHUA, NH – After 17 months of walking across the country and back, Greg Hindy is winding down. The “performance” part of his performance art project ended in July, when he completed the first leg of his journey of self-discovery.
But the journey took an unexpected turn for the former Nashua High School North (Class of ’09) standout student and cross-country runner when he decided to walk back. He started his return trip in July and should be home for Christmas. [Click here for an interactive map of the cross-country paths he took.]
After graduating from Yale in 2013, Hindy wanted to see if he could spend a year listening, instead of talking. He wanted to see what the world looked like from a different perspective. He wondered what would become of him, as a human being, if he gave up the trappings of life as he knew it, and simply observed.
It was his own post-grad capstone project of sorts. Although he went to Yale to study psychology, he immersed himself in elective art courses, particularly photography, which became a salve for the rigors of academia. Hindy developed the idea for the photo-driven project, starting on his 22nd birthday and ending on his 23rd.
His lifelong compulsive tendencies were now pushing him to discover who he really was, beyond the prescribed hoops and high bars he’d set for himself, ever since his high-achieving childhood days.
It was a journey that led him from his home in Nashua to the California coast, toting whatever fit on his push cart – a tent, some meager supplies, a debit card, an old-school field camera and film plates needed to capture his world view.
Once he arrived in California on his birthday, he was met with fanfare from friends and family, there to welcome and retrieve him. But Hindy made the unexpected decision to walk his way back home, rather than fly.
“Someone asked him why he was going to walk home. Greg had a lot of thoughts about it, but his answer was simple. He said, ‘I felt that I had momentum.’ It’s not what anyone was expecting. But it was almost like getting a word from an oracle,” says Greg’s dad, Carl Hindy, a Nashua psychologist who has been chronicling his son’s journey, from here and back, via a Facebook group page.
So, for the past five months, Greg Hindy walked a comparatively direct path home, through Death Valley and over the Rockies, enduring the desolate 2,800-mile straightaway of the midwestern plains. He carried a cell phone and communicated verbally, without the “Hi, I’m Greg Hindy. I’ve taken a vow of silence and I’m walking across the country,” flash cards which he relied on during his one-year silent walk.
From his dad’s perspective, it has not always been easy to be a spectator.
“As a parent – and as a psychologist parent at that– from day one my first thoughts are to be sure he’s OK. Is this all really a thought-out pursuit of art, or just some depressed kid going on a death march because he’s graduating from college and has no idea what to do next?,” says Carl Hindy. “So for the first part, the silent part, we just had to fly on his word, that he knew what he was doing.”
Following along via Facebook was not part of the plan. In fact, his son really had no real interest in social media. But one thing led to another, and Carl Hindy gradually began posting updates and progress reports, to keep others up to speed.
As Greg Hindy’s journey commenced, and he encountered strangers who felt energized by his spirit, the Facebook page became a meeting place for anyone and everyone, whether to share a “Hey, we met your son passing through in Tennessee and we fed him and he’s OK,” kind of message, or one of Carl Hindy’s many serendipitous posts, like announcing how things turned out when Greg got his first flat tire – which happened in front of the driveway of an oil rig mechanic.
“Over the weekend, that same oil rig mechanic posted form Singapore, to say Merry Christmas to Greg. He’s still following along,” said Carl Hindy, during a phone interview on Dec. 22 about how it feels for him to see this journey coming to an end.
“You know, once it was clear that Greg was going to do this, we were left to process it, as much as he was. We were forced into quite a project. The Facebook group has been a real support system. Of course, I can’t help but feeling sometimes like I’m not only drinking the collective Kool-aid of this journey, but serving it up as well,” says Carl Hindy.
That is a reference to the mixed reviews the story gets, as reported by the several news stories written across the country, putting into words of varying adequacy what “the point” of it all is.
The court of public opinion is often divided between awe and annoyance.
“What comes through to those of us following along from the beginning is that the kindness of humanity and the goodness of people outweighs the negative. I also am mindful of the fact that we’re a filtered group, like a church, where like-minded people come on a Sunday,” Carl Hindy says.
“By contrast, if you look at the unwashed masses, and the public comments made like those you would see in the Nashua Telegraph, some of the nastier comments bring you back to reality, things like I wish all Yale grads would take a vow of silence, or I assume the only reason they mention he is a ‘Yale grad’ is because the rest of us couldn’t afford to take a year off to do this? Like church, some join and others just project their anger, and don’t stay,” Carl Hindy says.
Through it all, his biggest personal fear remains that his son could get hit by a car.
“It’s a superstitious thing, that tragedy can happen – especially now that he’s so close to finishing,” he says.
Carl Hindy has calculated that, as of Dec. 22, his son had about 70 miles to go until Nashua, after lingering in New Haven, Ct., catching up with some of his old professors and friends, and thinking ahead to what is next.
In fact, Carl Hindy and his wife couldn’t resist the urge to surprise Greg, who called him over the weekend from a Subway in Hartford, Ct.
“We were in Merrimack and my wife said, why don’t we go find him? I stayed on the phone with him during most of the drive. He had no idea we were coming. Then we lost connection with him about 20 minutes from Hartford. We Googled ‘Subways’ in Hartford, and found three, but we narrowed it down after learning he was near City Hall. We happened to take a wrong turn, and I saw him through a window. He was still sitting there with his head under the camera tent, taking photos,” he says.
Carl Hindy snapped a few photos of his own, including a powerful one that shows his son walking alone, against a backdrop of protesters caught up in the country’s racial unrest of the moment, all moving together in the opposite direction.
As a standalone photographic statement, it’s evocative of the journey as a whole, although Carl Hindy likes that it’s open to interpretation.
He says it was good to spend time with his son. He misses the long, intellectual discussions they had, prior to embarking on his epic journey. They took some time on Saturday to talk about what is next, which looks like it will include a stint at New England School of Photography in Boston, where his son will have full access to the dark room to process his 1,500 black-and-white photos (500 color photos have already been processed, as a way to know the camera was working during the journey, explains Carl Hindy.)
Beyond that, his son is looking forward to planning some exhibitions of his work, and a book project of some sort. But he’s not in a hurry to sign any deals. Processing the experience is going to be deliberate as the past 17 months have been.
In the moment, it means his son will soon be delivered from the belly of this adventure in time for Christmas, a metaphor of meaningful proportions, depending in what context you embrace the arrival of a long-awaited son.
Along the way toward home his son experienced some self-doubt – particularly during the longest stretch of his return walk. There was a point, says his dad, where he seemed down – not just spiritually, but artistically, questioning whether his photographs would even rise to the level he’d originally imagined.
At that point, his dad did his best to buoy his son’s spirits. And then he encouraged the Facebook followers to email Greg, and put into their own words what the journey had meant to them.
“I believe that helped Greg, a lot. And since then, he’s begun to piece together the plan to go to Boston and develop his film. He needs to find work, and that’s always a concern, but after Christmas he has a reunion planned in New York, and then a ski trip. He’s excited about getting back to all of that. I think he’s ready,” Carl Hindy says.
Certainly the experience has changed Carl Hindy’s perspective on life. Watching your child choose such an unconventional path, after years of convention, takes equal parts patience and trust.
The pay-off, beyond wherever this journey leads his son professionally, is the priceless reward we gain as parents, watching a boy find his way on the chosen road to becoming a man.
“I actually thought about this over the weekend. To meet him now, Greg seems so hugely different than the kid who left. He’s a kid who’s grown up 10 years in a short span. To me, he left sort of like a high school kid, and now I feel like I’m talking to a 30 year old. It’s like he jumped ahead a decade, somehow,” says his dad.
“Largely in this life we’re afraid to be alone. One of the biggest things for Greg has been to have this much solitude. I think he will go forward, no matter what’s next, not being afraid to be alone in his thoughts,” Carl Hindy says. “And for those used to living in a prescribed world, it’s a lesson, that no matter what happens, you don’t have to be at a loss because you don’t know what’s next.”