When I was growing up, I abhorred walking. Walking was too slow, too boring, for old people. I would bike, run, skate, even parade around the block on stilts to reach my destination. After a car accident ended my athletic career, I aged overnight. Forced to give up the pavement pounding I once loved, I concentrated on being able to put one foot in front of another and walk again.
In the beginning, I still hated walking, too slow, too boring, for old people. But now that I am old people, I have learned to appreciate it. Europeans helped me acquire a taste for walking. My German friends insisted on “spazieren gehen” through the woods surrounding Marburg. In Paris, like the French, I escaped my tiny apartment by heading outdoors, rain or shine, to a “promenade” in the park. In Switzerland, walking is as natural as breathing, especially in this nation of hikers, where every mile is beautiful.
In our techno, fast-paced, modern world, walking has become a lost art. Yet walking, which combines fitness, relaxation and meditation, is the safest sport. It costs nothing, wastes no energy, burns calories, builds muscle, fights fatigue. When I feel anxious, angry or depressed, I walk until worries slide off my shoulders.
I step outside my door into orchards and vineyards on the fertile slopes above Lake Geneva. While the sun slinks behind the Jura Mountains over my right shoulder, light shimmers around the white-peaked Mt Blanc to my left. The fields flame in amber, gold, rust of autumn marking the harvest in earth’s last hurrah before lying fallow for winter.
Walking forces us to slow down long enough from our hectic lives to appreciate the beauty of the moment, to take stock and count our blessings. Even though I live thousands miles from loved ones, I picture them walking in their daily lives. My sister paces around Yorkville’s newest subdivision at dawn, my daughter strides the halls of Minneapolis hospitals during morning rounds, my parents meander around Northland Hills mid day, my son dashes through Macalester quad to ball practice early afternoon, my niece marches in the band across Shaker Heights football field after school, my sister and brother-in-law stroll oak-lined streets of Golden Valley hand in hand at dusk.
Somehow when I walk, I am closer to family, matching each footfall step by step round the clock. Every hour of the day someone I love, somewhere, is walking to work, school, or practice.
I once dreamed of running marathons and skiing mountains, alas injury and illness prevented those goals. Though each year it is harder to roll out of bed, instead of lamenting what I can’t do, I focus on what I can do – walk. No matter how badly the rest of the day has gone, I am filled with wonder and wellbeing. Suddenly all is right with world.