The trek to Trader Joe’s last week felt like going to Disneyland, but instead of Mickey Mouse and Goofy greeting me, gloved workers festooned with decorative face masks happily welcomed me in. Good to get out, drive, take in fresh scenery, and walk through the wonderland of newly stocked shelves loaded with that most privileged and appreciated commodity in these dark times: food.
Compared to daily walks around the complex or in the nearby woods, driving somewhere feels like I’m channeling Steve McQueen as he rides his motorcycle in his escape from the WWII prison camp. He eludes pursuers over hill and dale, but eventually gets caught trying to jump that final fence to freedom. Alas, like McQueen, I also have to return and continue the days ahead in semi-solitary confinement.
These periodic food runs and frequent walks outside the home remind me of things I miss doing and likely took for granted back then. The ability to go out on a whim, explore a museum, or think nothing of driving over an hour to Ohio for that pan of amazing coffee cake were delights I did not fully appreciate then. How could I, when they were anytime, anywhere options? Now it feels like a naughty pleasure to get out, triggering some religion-induced guilt for enjoying it so.
Once outside, I think I must be in a Twilight Zone episode, that one where everything looked normal and in place, except there were no people, anywhere. On some days, walks in the woods feel like I’m the last human on Earth. Except for the distant sound of highway traffic, it’s not a stretch to have those thoughts. But wait…up ahead, someone masked and gloved approaches. So I’m not the last. Soon those thoughts give way to the new, autonomic social distancing dance, once clumsy, but now just is.
My growing list of basic things now grateful for, perhaps not as much as before, finds walking at the top. Rewind back to 2004, my year of back surgery to correct a problem that evolved into being unable to walk without severe pain. After post-surgery recovery, there were still moments when I mentally wrestled with accepting I wouldn’t walk well again, but eventually those thoughts dissipated.
Since then, I’ve always been grateful for my recovered ability to walk freely, possibly that most precious of human abilities that opens doors to so many experiences and enables self-reliance. My love of hiking and walking, it seems, would not be denied and ever since, have been grateful for every step I could take.
“The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out of an inner journey. The inner journey is the interpolation of the meanings and signs of the outer pilgrimage. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.” – Thomas Merton
The power to move from here to there, without mechanical conveyance, is a marvel and a lifelong art form. The fluidity of muscles moving in harmony with joints, driven by the lung’s unselfish in- and out-breaths in rhythm with the heart’s life-pump, are as mysterious and amazing as any modern technology.
As I walk and earn that magical moment, what those who jog call “runner’s high,” all cares slip away and only the moment is in focus. The sensory delights of surroundings combine with the meditative and therapeutic value of a good walk completes the experience. Having the capability and opportunity to walk freely during these dark times is my daily taste of freedom…for now.
“An Eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape, the point at which anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.” – Lucy Lippard, “Overlay”
“I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
with fury, with forgetfulness.”
– Pablo Neruda