I’m a fast walker. I don’t like to dilly-dally or saunter. I want to pump my arms and fly. People driving by will know it’s me from a distance. They see the flailing arms and the fast gait. I never have anything in my ears for a number of reasons. I feel I am safer if I can hear what’s going on around me, and I want to be free to think! The pace of my gait, I feel certain, far outpaces the flow of revelatory insights, but I always give it my best shot. I prefer to walk alone when I can because it’s my time to think and process whatever is going on with me. I burn some calories and reward myself with my own brand of therapy session. I call it “walking off my problems”. My head is usually clearer afterwards and I’ve got some blood circulating. Don’t mess with my walk, buddy, or you’ll be dealing with a person in a bad mood, hee hee. Walking balances mood swings in my world. But I think there’s some good science out there that backs this up.
I pick different places to walk so I can change up the experience and ward off boredom. But there’s a particular path in my hometown that is visited by many of the locals and so going on this path increases the chance I will run into someone I know and as a result, my power walk may be interrupted. How often have I put my head down and lowered my cap to make myself incognito – probably more times than I care to admit to. I go for exercise and I don’t like my pace interrupted, but the best laid plans are always an invitation to disruption or change. It’s called life.
If I stay open to possibilities, and let go of expectations, perhaps life has something serendipitous to offer me. I have to stay out of my own way though. I have to be humble enough to know that my way is not always the best way, and teachers are everywhere. I used to go out of my way to walk across the street to avoid a conversation with an acquaintance. Perhaps I was in a bad mood and wasn’t in the mood for casual conversation. That happened a lot, and as a result I battled loneliness. Part of it was my fault… I avoided people, and in doing so I invited isolation in. I wanted people to come to me – if they did, I was warm and friendly but I didn’t always want to go out of my way to go to them. However, working in a 12 step program involves greeting strangers all the time and making a concerted effort to get to know them – to look them in the eye and make a human connection. Perhaps some of us do this better than others. I find myself, (after 5 years of working this recovery program geared towards those who are affected by the drinking of loved ones) quite comfortable in speaking to strangers in and out of the rooms. For some reason, I chat with people more and don’t run across the street to avoid them. If I happen to run into someone on my walk, I’m not fearful any more that a couple of minutes out of my time will ruin my day. It’s quite a development to observe in myself. I believe that this evolution is the result of more contentment and happiness within. I don’t know if I would have gotten here without that program.
But back to the speed of walking. I had a finite amount of time one evening to get my walk in before a 12 step meeting. There was going to be no fooling around – I was on a mission of a 15-20 minute power walk: my personal minimum to maintain sanity and some degree of physical fitness. Each time I walk this path, I more often than not see the same man walking and running the path. This has been going on for many years, maybe decades. He is religious about his workout and is on this path daily, and I notice that over the years, he has befriended other walkers and runners on the path and they’ve formed a quasi-club. My husband and I always said hello and waved as we passed him, but the opportunity never came up to have an in-depth conversation. I remember running into him in the local deli many years ago and learning his name and even where he worked and I have a decent memory and I remembered the details to this day. So as fate would have it, on the day I wanted to power through my power walk, I ran into this man who invited himself to walk with me. What could I say? I suppose I could say, “I really wish to be alone” but I didn’t want to be rude. I’ve walked the path alone for so many years, what would be the harm if I engaged in a little community building?
We discussed injuries, for I have had two knee surgeries in three years. Torn meniscus in each knee. My fellow walker had had a torn meniscus and torn ACL, but somehow he avoided surgery. And so our conversation centered on health and exercise. He mentioned another walker, “the guy with the handlebar mustache”, whom I see frequently on the path – let’s call him “Stan”. I know who Stan is (he is the father of a former childhood friend of my daughter’s) but I have never gone out of my way to do anything more than a quick wave or hello. A I feel certain the man does not remember me as the mother of his daughter’s friend, but I always at least try to greet him and other walkers with at least a smile. I may not want to stop to talk but I will acknowledge their presence. My fellow walker on that afternoon –let’s call him Matt. Since Matt and Stan walk the same path quite often, they have gotten to know each other a bit. I’ll attribute that to Matt’s social skills since Stan seems a little shy. Well, Matt revealed that Stan studied holistic health in India once upon a time and accrued a lot of wisdom, and probably got the equivalent of a PhD in some health discipline. (I would never have guessed that!) Matt shared that Stan advises losing the sugar and salt habit. But there was one other thing that was an indication of good health and longevity that has nothing to do with what one puts in his/her mouth. I thought it would have to do with positive thinking, but I was wrong.
The key to a long life has to do with fast walking! According to Stan, the speed of one’s pace is indicative of one’s potential for health and long life. Who would have thought? I was blown away. I said “well, then, there is so much hope for me!” Matt offered, “keep doing what you are doing, in spite of wobbly knees.” I said I would and I plan to not change a thing.
I began to think about this topic as something was nagging at me. Who else walks fast that I know of? Why, my Mother! I always compliment her on the fact that she can walk up the steepest San Francisco hill and beat the best of us. She is 86 years old and has not lived the healthiest of lives. She’s abused sugar and abused liquid concoctions, to put it nicely, and she overindulges in worry. Yet, here is she, 86 and counting; thin and energetic, having outlived her husband who was a health nut but didn’t walk and internalized stress. We all thought for sure our Mother would go first and it was quite a shock that Dad went first. We then thought she wouldn’t last 9 months after our Dad’s passing. Well it’s been 8 years.
So how can I judge? How can any of us judge what is the life path for anyone else? I believe in making sound health decisions, and I try to take care of myself. I don’t believe that anyone should start to abuse sugar or alcohol, simply because they happen to be “fast walkers” !! I personally want to hedge my bets and make choices that give me a chance at optimal health. But there seem to be a number of factors to health and longevity that present an out-and-out mystery. I think we’ve all heard stories about the 110 year old woman or man who attributes their health to a dose of whiskey each night. My father took a lot of vitamins and ate organic vegetables, yet he had a lot of stress and he succumbed to a fast moving cancer.
As one health practioner put it to me when I was in the throes of grief in the aftermath of my father’s passing:
Wear your heart on your sleeve.
I was given these words of wisdom because my dear Father had internalized and swallowed so much. So, here I am on this little blog, exposing my heart. I hope you get some inspiration from it.
May you all be well,