My mom tells a story about when I was four-years-old. I walked out of our backyard, down the street to the corner of our block, turned the corner, and walked another half-block to the bodega on 57th street. There was a gumball machine there, the kind that took coins for the Lion’s Club. My parents didn’t know where I was until the clerk at the store figured out who I was and called them to tell them that I was standing at the gumball machine shaking it to make the gum come out.
I have always loved walking. When I was in high school I took our golden retriever for long walks. Walking the dog was a great excuse to get out of the house and clear my head. Back then we didn’t have cell phones and I didn’t have a walkman. It was just me, my dog Nellie and the familiar streets of my neighborhood.
In college, I moved off campus my sophomore year and loved walking the mile or so to my classes every day. When I moved to Spain my junior year I would get lost walking the streets of the town where I lived. My sense of direction has always been terrible and I would walk for hours trying to find my way to a cafe or bar to meet my friends.
When my daughter was an infant I walked miles with her. She loved the movement and I loved the freedom of being outside, away from all the baby junk, exploring the world with my little one safely tucked away on my chest or in her stroller.
Humans were made to walk. It is the most natural movement in the world. We put one foot in front of the other, our arms naturally move in rhythm with our legs. Our torsos, erect and strong allow our lungs to expand fully so we can take big, full breaths. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world. Walking is possible everywhere —on paths, on sidewalks, in the woods, in the jungle, on the beach.
During COVID walking has taken on a whole new meaning. It is one of the few social outlets we can manage safely. Yesterday I had a day off and I made a plan to walk with two different friends who I hadn’t seen in a long time. The first walk was with someone I parted ways with in an uncomfortable, painful way about three years ago. I haven’t seen her since. We walked and talked for almost two hours.
We walked side by side, our pace quickening or slowing depending on the topic. It was easy to talk about the hard things because, as we walked, we were both looking forward. Every now and again we’d look at each other, our masked faces depending solely on each other’s eyes for connection. The comfortable rhythm of our walking offered a soothing backdrop for the hard topics we discussed during those hours.
After a short doctor’s appointment, I walked with another friend. She’s one of my oldest friends but we’ve rarely seen each other since COVID hit. She suggested we walk the four-mile loop she takes with her sixteen-year-old son several days a week. As we walked she told me about the different rituals she and her son do along the route. She shared how they named the houses along the way and each got to choose the pace of part of the walk — her going, him returning. It was almost as if I was with them. It felt like storytime at the library while walking. The comfort and familiarity of our bodies walking allowed for this peaceful, easy experience together.By the end of the day, my iPhone mileage calculator said I’d walked close to eight miles. I felt happy, connected, and ready for dinner.
Today I was in an all-day Zoom writing class with an hour break at mid-day. I seized the opportunity of a sunny afternoon to walk along the lake during my break. There were lots of people with the same idea and the path was full. At one point I found myself walking behind two teenage girls. As we rounded a bend one of the girls asked the other, “Should we turn around here?” And her friend said, “Sure if you want to. I’m good though. I could walk forever.” I know just how she feels.