Why Walk?

Day 365+

The daily walk as meditation, adventure, exercise, freedom, existential ramble, break from daily tedium, time with friends and for contemplation: I’ve experienced and written about walking in all these veins over the past year. I’ve walked in Montreal, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Newark, Ocean Grove, Long Beach Island, a couple of Costos (ha!) and lots of place in between.  This weekend I walked in Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky in the footsteps of Daniel Boone and beside the great Captain Joseph Martin circa 1775 who staved off the Cherokees and helped us win the Revolutionary War — the photos you see here are from my last walk in Coony Hollow (pronounced HOLLER), when I came to the bridge across Powell’s Creek and I crossed it…only to find there was no outlet on the other side.

The entire idea of the MyBigWalk (one woman, one year, and lots and lots of miles beyond 1000),  I understand now, was to ensure that I was living an active life. I needed an attainable goal and I set one. That way when life gave me other setbacks I was able to draw on that one hour a day and know that  I had a daily goal I could and did meet without much difficulty.

It’s not stretching the truth much to say that I needed a purpose for my days besides writing and chasing editors and dreams and plots and characters and deadlines and so I gave myself one that didn’t require that I visit my therapist, go to the gym, travel to Europe, confront my demons, go a little crazy, heal my past, or put myself in harm’s way.

Funny enough, I did all those things…and then some. I questioned authority and convention and limitations and a lot of the rules we live by. Even when the questions were too difficult to answer or the impasse was insurmountable, at least I walked the walk. Literally. I put on my sneakers and hit the trail. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried a bunch, too, but mostly I’ve gone out with an open heart and an open mind, and I’ve been rewarded.I didn’t hide from my fears or from the things I wanted to see and do and taste and feel. Sometimes I was ambushed, sometimes I was lost, sometimes I hobbled on blisters through the snow and rain, and I endured the mockery of sunny days when I felt unhappy and confused.

Much has been written about the importance of putting one foot in front of the other and walking the path you’ve set for yourself or taking that bend in the road you know you need to follow to become the full, honest, and whole person you want to be and can be.

Of course that path is sometimes difficult, dark, or scary. But if you turn back, you’ll never know if you could have made it. If you give up, you’re back where you started.

That’s not for me: not literally and not metaphorically either. I’ve always believed that if I didn’t try, if I didn’t peer around that corner, if I didn’t take on tasks and personal challenges that are daunting, that I’d have regrets. Trying and failing is the only way I want to live.   It’s not trying that leads to weakness and sorrow and the  feeling that “it could have been,” “it might have been…if only I’d tried.”

I can honestly say that not one single thing that came into my life this year went unexamined or without following the path until it could not be travelled any further — and that almost always, what stood in my way was not my own will (or lack of will) or my own fear. I refuse to be deterred because I’m afraid. I refuse to step down because I have a lack of will. That’s not for me.

So my latest manuscript is still unpublished and my latest novel, The Miracles of Prato (co-written with my dear friend Laura Morowitz),  didn’t make any bestseller lists. But my accomplishments,  my dreams, my integrity, and  my peace of mind are all intact. I have my imagination, I have my determination, I have grace, generosity, and gratitude. And I have 1000 miles of walking carved into the heels of my shoes. I have friends and family and strangers near and far who kept me company and encouraged  me along the way.

For everyone who ever called me up and said, “Hey, did you walk today?” I have a great big shout out: THANK YOU!

MyBigWalk is over (for now). But endings are new beginnings.  And so I leave you with some words from Goethe (or attributed to him) that I have lived by for years. The first carried me through my twenties into my forties:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

And the last is painted on my office wall where I can read it, and strive to live by it, each day now that I’m in my (gasp) fifties.

Do not hurry; do not rest.

The wisdom is in the semi-colon. Not one; not the other.  Feel the fear; do it anyway. Do not  hurry; do not rest. Keep on truckin’ (no semi-colon) baby. And while you’re on the road, drop me a line now and then to tell me where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how you’re doing. I’ll be walking my own private path, but I’ll be cheering you on.

Day 293

Zsofi and Rosemarie, near the national gallery.

Hungary is a country of strong passions and long history, much like my friend Zsofia.

Zsofia lives in the USA with her daughters now, but she grew up and went to school in Budapest and was there visiting when Rosemarie and I arrived. For an entire day, Zsofi walked us through her home city.  It was the first time in fifteen years that she’d shown anyone around, and she was tireless and open.

We started with a boat ride along the Danube. The ride had a narrated tour in about fifteen languages, but it was much more interesting to let Zsofi point out the “ugly block apartment houses the Russians built,” and listen to her mom, Eva, tell my mother-in-law about her family’s (terrible) experiences during WWII.

With Zsofi’s spunky daughters, Maya and Nina, we walked around Margaret Island and had ice cream. Then we had some more ice cream.

Nina, listening to the boat tour in Hungarian.

We went to the huge local market and ate a lunch of stuffed cabbage standing up at the counter, crossed the Chain Bridge, breezed through the  Hungarian National Gallery and saw a handful of gorgeous modern paintings. We broiled under the 100+ heat.

We were with Zsofi when we saw the riot police out in full force, preparing for the “warm” — aka Gay Pride — parade.

“Why are the police here?” we heard an Aussie ask her city guide.

“Because in our country we hate gays, and the people will beat them.”

“They hate gays here,” Zsofi affirmed. “They also hate black people and Jews, too.”

At our apartment that night, Rosemarie received an email from someone back home. It was one of those tasteless chain mail pieces casting aspersions on Obama and his heritage — that is, one of those “jokes” about Obama being an alleged Muslim.

“Tell her this _________,” I said. “Or how about _________.”

Maya, listening in English (or maybe Japanese?)

But Rosemarie had a better idea. She posted her own dateline: Budapest July 2010. She wrote about the riot police, the bullet holes (think Russian tanks) that we saw in buildings all over the city, and about Eva’s run from the Nazis in ’44. She repeated what Zsofi told us: although she’s now the widow of an American journalist, and has the option of returning home to Hungary, she’ll be raising her daughters in America.

“They have a better life in the States,” Zsofi said.

It’s one thing to hear that for yourself. It’s another to walk the city and know exactly what she means. If only Rosemarie’s ‘friend’ could have seen and heard what we saw, she might have pushed the DELETE button rather than the SEND button on that e-mail.

Moszkva ter (Moscow Square), Budapest

Day 252

Folks, I have an answer to that question: why?

The answer is simple:  Walking makes me happy. It really does

I realized last week that the truest simplest answer I have for the question Why’d you start this walk and this blog? is that I thought it would make me a happier person. Maybe that sounds corny or fake but it is the real, true reason. I wanted to feel happier on a daily basis. I thought walking every day might make a difference in my overall general feeling of happiness. And it has.

On Friday evening I walked from my house to meet Frank for a movie (if you can find it at a theater near you, absolutely go see The Secret in their Eyes as soon as possible) at the other end of town.

The walk took me half an hour, and I had to hurry so I wouldn’t be late — friends who know me surely won’t be surprised to hear that :) By the end, I was practically skipping. Walking to the movies with a pack on my back — a DKNY pack, lest you think I sacrifice style for comfort — as the day cooled, the sky darkened, and the fireflies came out, I felt carefree and young. Yes, young. I was wearing sandals, I wasn’t carrying a purse, I felt the night opening and surrounding me. Sure I was only going to the movies with my husband but the walking made it feel like an adventure. So that’s the other thing:

Walking makes me feel young.

After the movies we had some sushi at what turned out to be a bit of a dive, and then we walked home. It was a bit like my very frist date — the date I went on when I was fifteen. On that date we walked to the movies, too. We stopped

Me, outside the movie theater

at a sort of a dive for pizza afterwards. We walked home. The night stretched out in front of us and behind us. I could feel the day trailing along with me, I could feel the cool night and the promise of a breeze across the bed as I slept in front of the open window, drawing me home.

Walking makes time slow down.

Walking through the dark streets with Frank I felt nostalgic for my teen years, but I didn’t feel sad. I felt like I was still able to have the best part of what those summer evening strolls — the darkness, the romance, even the mystique of slipping through the streets while inside the houses people were doing their evening chores – once meant to me.  So there’s the third thing: Every walk is a bit of an adventure. And sharing a tiny adventure with your husband at the end of a long week at the end of your twenty-second year of marriage is good enough reason for me to keep going.

Day 243
What a night! It was hot and muggy, exhilarating and emotional. New York Times writer / blogger / survivor Dana Jennings’ inspiring opening remarks whooshed us right into a  a survivor’s lap around the track at Brookdale Park at 7:15 last night which for many — myself included —  was the most meaningful part of the first Montclair Relay 4 Life evening.

Survivors walked hand-in-hand with loved ones of all ages; a team of young people carried the official Relay banner , while our strong walkers Nanci, Alex, Elaine, Toni, and Donna carried the snap-looking MyBigWalk banner that was designed and painted by Lori Loehbelson.

Toni saw a small girl checking in as a survivor receive a pair of purple wings to affix on her tiny shoulders; Dana spoke about being a “sage warriors,” who “will not let cancer define us.” The survivor walk was led by a cadre of young people including a young man with huge black plugs in each ear and a funky purple bandana on his head, and after the first lap Toni — who is in her sixth cancer-free year — grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the track with her.

As we looped the stadium fellow relayers, supporters, friends and family, stood and clapped. For fifteen minutes. I’m sure Elaine, who has successfully completed  treatment for advanced breast cancer and is gearing up for her second big trip to Europe this year, spoke for many when she said the the survivor lap was “very surreal, emotional and moving.”

The night went very fast after the opening ceremonies. Everyone on our team was in great spirits and absolutely diligent about staying on the track for their hour and more. We had three tents, deluxe air mattresses, lanterns, a beautiful white canopy courtesy of Myla’s mom — an artist who lost the battle last July and for whom Myla’s entire family came out to honor —  not to mention food galore, beautifully coordinated by Martha.

As darkness fell, the luminarias that marked our path were illuminated, and I was able to find the many candles pledged by HarperCollins folks in memory of  c0worker and rock drummer Dave Campbell. My parents, Myla’s mom, Leslie’s husband, and many others were memorialized along the way.

Before I knew it it was time for my midnight lap with Toni, followed by my own solo lap. I say solo lap, but I was never alone. Frank, who’d already walked the 9-10 lap with David, walked with me. Soon David and Ellen were out there with us, too. It was a beautiful night of camraderie, remebrance, and celebration.

I crashed at 4 in the morning, just as Leslie was going out to do her lap. When I woke, Martha and Nanci had returned with coffee, and Alex, Frank, Myla, Lori, and Martha were busy taking down the banner and tents.

In the spirit of the evening, Elaine came to collect her air mattresses at 5:30 but didn’t have the heart to wake me, and so I ‘slept in’ until 6. Thank you, Elaine! Thank you Lori, Nanci, Alex, Leslie, Toni, Myla, Ellen, David, Frank, Martha, and Jenny, too.

The relay raised $110,000 for cancer research. With $13,153 on our ledger by 4 am, MyBigWalk was by far the biggest fund-raiser for this year’s walk (see Baristanet piece). Best of all, the night was everything we’d hoped for, and more.

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