This may seem paradoxical, but even though I’ve been disabled for 20 years, I’ve been able to walk, after extensive spinal surgery 15 years ago, nearly 4 miles most mornings. There are mornings when either the pain or collagenous colitis has hold of me and I stay home. Even though I can walk for about an hour, what I can’t do is stand for more than a few minutes. I also have trouble with sitting, but that’s another sob story.
I know that not everyone can walk as far as me, that some of you can’t walk at all, or just for very short distances. Knowing that, I’m recommending walking to everyone who can, even if it’s for short distances.
Of course we all know that walking provides several kinds of health benefits. The benefit I’m going to write about is all in the head, including the usual physical & mental health benefits.
I started walking 5 and 6 miles a day in my mid-twenties because of my inability to run. Running caused far too much pain and gave me shin splints in the bargain as I tried to jog around LIncoln Park in Chicago. I switched to walking in the park, along the lakefront and in the neighborhoods regardless the weather. Okay, okay, I never walked in driving rain or snow storms. I’m talking relatively normal weather here.
I now have a really cool version of a balaclava that I wear when the Hawk is out in Chicago in the dead of winter. It’s really a black mask with slits for my eyes and piece that fits over my nose with two holes for breathing. It’s stitched with a line for my mouth giving me quite the IRA hardman appeal–I look like a Republican gunman. I only use this mask when the temperature is below 30 and the wind is above 15 mph, which is more often than not during Chicago winters.
I walked alone until I was 40. One dark night at 4 a.m. I woke up a 2nd time in Chicago with a home invader prowling around our first floor. After chasing him off and having cops and detectives crawling over every surface in our home I went out to buy a gun. I’d had it with break-ins, bike thefts, a drug fiend trying to jimmy open my kitchen window as I watched him from the other side & cleaning up after 7 break-ins in my car. Chicago 30 years ago wasn’t so safe.
Fortunately, the gun shop owner and my wife talked me into buying a dog and that night we did just that, a lovely golden retriever pup who was my companion on all my walks for the next 15 years.
Now I walk with my lovely mutt, Dylan. I find that if I don’t have him with me, I really don’t want to walk. I’m recommending walking with a 4 legged pal if you can, but on your own otherwise.
When I’m with Dylan on our walks I keep up a running commentary of whatever enters my mind. I admit, as a writer and poet, that all manner of things enter my mind that might not enter yours. But, please, don’t let that stop you. Even if you walk without a dog, keep that running commentary coming.
Why? I’m not exactly sure, as I’m a little too close to myself to be an accurate reporter. But I think it goes something like this: I find, as most will admit, that when walking I see more, hear more & feel more than when I rode my bike. The same in triplet for driving. When driving we experience so little.
But walking? I suppose the only thing to be that would be crawling, but I’m not here to recommend that, because, if like me, you’ve had some really bad moments with your body and crawling would bring back entirely too much. And it all comes alive when I say it to Dylan.
Now that I’ve moved back to Lincoln Pk. after an absence of 40 years I’ve found so much has changed while the basics have remained untouched. I love seeing all the new two and three flat buildings that have taken the Victorian architecture and updated it with a turn here and a twist there. Each new element I see, practically with every other lot, I tell Dylan what’s up. It’s as if we’re on an architecture tour and he’s my audience. I’m sure he appreciates the education.
The wonderful thing about walking in my new (old) neighborhood is that now that I’m in my mid-60s I seem to notice more as I’m not filled with a bazillion thoughts that whirled around my head when I was a couple of decades younger.
Now when I’m out seeing the changes and the things that haven’t changed I’m acutely aware that most of my life has been lived, and given my health history, I simply can’t count on more decades. It’s almost as if everything I look at now is surrounded with a slightly golden penumbra. I try explaining this to my pal, Dylan, but I’m convinced the smile I see on his furry countenance is nothing more than happiness of being on the prowl with me.Another wonder that Dylan brings me is that everyone who walks towards us beam smiles as they watch my pal marching next to me. Nearly 90% of the people I meet, and especially moms walking their babies in prams, stop to talk to us. As I speak with them their little one’s tentatively reach out to pat, or I should say, whomp, Dylan with their tiny hands, I’m thrown back over two decades when I walked my baby son.
It may sound a bit overblown, but I find all this thrilling in a way that never got through to me when I first started my perambulations 40 years ago. Everything seems so alive and fresh to me even though I’ve seen it over and over as you have, too. I think this is the leavings of 50 years in pain.
Being outside and with my pal and meeting both the old and new somehow elevates me for a few hours above the pain. As write this, it occurs to me that sitting in a comfortable lawn chair on the sidewalk next our loft would do the same. Or if I could only walk just a bit–which if I last long enough will surely come–I could sit on a park bench under the shade trees across the street and talk to all the passersby as my pal lies next to me.
I’m not saying this will work for everybody, but some portion of it just might. I know that much of my pleasure comes from being back in Chicago after years of living in NY, LA, and San Francisco. All nice, but not home.I
’m home, and maybe that’s all this is: being home.