Friends & Family


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 337

MyBigWalk Takes on Branch Brook Park

Last week I walked in Branch Brook Park in Newark — the scene of three deaths in as many years — for my debut on our local news e-zine,  BARISTANET. “Is it Safe to Walk in Branch Brook Park?” drew 47 comments, many of them snarky, angry, and downright insulting. A few were kind and insightful, but they were overshadowed  by the mockery!

My piece began earnestly enough….

Is it Safe to Walk in Branch Brook Park? When I posed this question to my friends I’d been out of the country for three weeks. I’d missed the Dean Gaymon tragedy in Newark, and the ensuing stories about sex-trolling and other illicit activity in this 360-acre Essex County Park.  But a walker must walk – and so I set out at 11 a.m. on Friday the 13th with a map, my big dog, and my son John – a 16-year-old black belt who’s ripped, and knows it…

…but the Baristanet comments took aim from the get-go. Here are two of my favorites:

from scottaleh: “What a God-awful post! Is the premise supposed to be that, because Dean Gaymon was shot by police, anybody walking in Branch Brook Park is in danger of the same? Is the premise supposed to be that this beautiful park is dangerous to anyone walking at 11am on a summer day because it’s in Newark? And what the heck is the relevance of Route 280 and the Basilica being nearby? BTW, anyone who really wants to see drug paraphenalia (and therefore, “debauched nightlife,” I guess) can find it in Andersen Park, our local source for drugs. Yeesh.”

From croiagusanam: “But I know that the park is safe. I walked there every day after my month-long sojourn in Katmandu, accompanied only by my pedigreed Lithuanian bloodhound and my 16 year old daughter, who is SMOKIN’ HOT and knows it. We encountered actual people, doing actual things. I was flabbergasted. I asked Sheriff Lynch if he thought the place was safe. He couldn’t stop staring at my daughter. What a letch! Anyway, I’ll be posting every week now, so you can follow my adventures and those of my daughter (I’ll include some pix as well!).”

——–

Never one to be daunted by a few crass remarks or unkind words, I returned to BARISTAVILLE last week, taking a few friends to the uber-suburban borough of Essex Fells and making as much noise as we could. Is Essex Fells safer than Newark? Is it more fun to walk in a dicey Newark park or a quiet-as-a-cemetary suburban enclave?

You can check out the original post, and YESTERDAY’S RESPONSE on Baristanet. And don’t be afraid to leave a comment there — God knows, everybody else felt absolutely fine about it!

Day 334

Birthday Girl on the RightMy  friend — and BigWalker — Toni just turned 60. Here are her thoughts on walking, family,  friendship, and life:

I flew home to California to walk in my old footsteps. It was my 60th birthday. My parents, both 85, still live in the house where I literally took my first steps.  (As did my seven younger brothers and sisters.)  How could I not do it since I had the opportunity?

My sister Missy was able to fly in too, from Washington State. First thing, before we even ate, or unpacked our bags, we walked around the block a few times.  And then we were really home.

Isn’t it curious? That visceral sense of being back where I belong only overtook me when I was out stretching my legs.

Maybe because it was California, where it’s unAmerican not to love being outdoors. Maybe because we were always overstuffed in that house (a room of one’s own? Hah!). Maybe because my mom is a nonpareil nonstop talker (Fascinating! Still. Breaks required for personal thought.) Whatever the reason, we grew up hitting the street – always, and often.

“Wanna go around the block?”

“Which one?” was the only logical response (left, or right, at the end of Panchita Way?)

You could walk the block alone, or push one of the babies in the stroller, or ride your bikes. Mostly, we walked – as Missy and I did that first night back – in twos. It was easiest that way to establish a pace, and a level of quietude or conversation. Also, two was the best number – better than one, or four, or whatever – if some little miracle made itself known along the way: Pollywogs in the puddle! Apricots on a branch within reach! You could share the serendipity, but didn’t have to share it too much.

Back on the old block, I thought about how my walking “style” developed. And as I strode along with my sister on my 60th, I wondered if what was engrained in me had changed as a result of accompanying Laurie on Big Walks this year to honor her 50th. I took the very first official stroll with my friend last fall, when she wasn’t even yet sure she would really commit to her own Big Idea. Since then, I walked with my pal countless times, on a zillion different routes. (Remember how Laurie wrote about never going the same way twice?)

“Look, Missy! There’s the old apricot tree in that yard! Whoah. That thing looks like it’s been dead for years; kind of cool-looking all twisted up like that, though.”

Toni's Little-Girl Birthday Surprise

“Hey, Laurie, where the hell are we, anyway? Is this even New Jersey? Oh, my gosh, I’ve never seen a sunset like that!”

I don’t think my style has changed much. But I realized, now I know what I know about walking: Ritual has its rewards, so do varied venues, and surprises are for sharing. That realization was a great birthday gift from Laurie. (So glad she gave it to herself first.)

Day 299

I walked the fountains park with Leslie today and it was great to be back home with my regular walking buddy. I love the heat and adore summer, and when I came home this evening the scent of freshly watered grass somehow smelled like the Long Island Sound did when I was a girl.

It’s fact that the olfactory center is located right next to the memory center in the brain. That’s why your sense of smell can trigger such vivid memories and strong emotions.

When I walked up my front walkway this evening, I wished I could go home and see my father standing in our yard, watering the lawn and grilling hamburgers. Alas, all I was able to do was look up at the full moon and remember him  pointing out the constellations when I was a little girl.

When I walk I mostly like to empty my mind and let it wander. But sometimes I’m drawn back to the past, to remembering how much I loved to run (and to swim) when I was young.

How about you? Do you go back in your memory when you walk? Do you empty your mind? Do you plan out your day, or play out your fantasies?

I’d love to hear from you. Where are you now? What are you seeing, thinking, and feeling on your summer walks?

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.

Day 240

I’m busy preparing for the American Cancer Society’s 12-hour overnight Relay for Life this Friday in Montclair. At this point, to be honest, the work is mostly sitting back and letting my wonderful team of 13 walkers paint our team banner and plan what to bring and what we’ll eat.

A special thanks to all MyBigWalkers who sent donations to the Relay.  You’ll be with us in spirit as we walk through the night.

Watch for pieces about each of my team walkers in the days ahead. Some are survivors, some are dedicated caregivers who are honoring loved ones, and others are remembering those who’ve lost the battle but live on in our hearts. Our reasons are complex and personal but they’re bringing us together, and community makes us stronger. That’s why we’ll be there.

Here’s a great story about the event posted yesterday on my favorite local news spot, Baristanet:

Countdown to Montclair’s Relay for Life

Montclair will host its first-ever Relay for Life on Friday, June 4, at Brookdale Park, thanks to the event’s chair, Erica Lowenthal, who took part in the Hoboken relay last year in memory of her late dad, Dr Hank Lowenthal, and decided to bring the event home.

Forty teams will be participating, and more than $73,000 has already been raised. Proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society Relay For Life – the biggest private funder of cancer research in the US.

The Relay celebrates the lives of those who have battled cancer and won, lost, or are still fighting back. Because cancer never relents, it’s an overnight event, beginning June 4 at 7:00pm and ending up to 24 hours later.

Each team has a reason, often a moving and personal one, for participating.

The leading fundraising team of My Big Walk, which has raised more than $8,500 so far, says on their page that they are “dedicated to cancer survivors Elaine Rapaport, Alex Nolan, Nanci Naegeli, Toni Martin, and Jenny Kydd.”

“Our friends have met and battled cancer. The women on our team are athletes, warriors, and ferocious fighters. We’re walking to keep the flame of the fight alive, and to light the dark night for those who are engaged in battle. Most of all, we’re walking for hope and unity.”

The entire community appears to be involved, including the Temptations of St Luke’s Church, Temple Ner Tamid, and schools such as Bradford, Hillside, Glenfield, Nishuane, MKA and Montclair High School.

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life provides emotional, screening and nutritional support and advice on healthy living. It funds research towards cures for cancer – 44 researchers supported by the ACS have gone on to win the Nobel Prize – and fights back, too. The society helped bring about the smoke-free law and assists low-income, uninsured or underinsured women with treatment or screening tests.

The event will be moving, and fun, too, with plenty of entertainment organized.

If you’d like to participate, it’s not too late!

Phyllis Lowenthal, who heads the team, The Page Turners, is in charge of the survivors’ dinner and walk that begins in the evening of June 4, and may be emailed here.

Sign up here, or just help towards finding a cure by making a contribution, here.

Day 225

More than a thousand people took part in the annual Tour de Montclair  this Sunday in my town. The community bike ride is a fundraiser for the nonprofit group Bike&Walk Montclair, which advocates for safe streets, pathways, and biking and walking accessibility  in Montclair and its surrounding towns and parks.

2010 Tour de Montclair

The tour is a great opportunity for families and friends to cycle or walk through town, enjoying our own backyards as summer approaches.

I caught up with the Kansagra family loading up their bikes at the end of their 8-mile ride through town.  Payal Maniar and her husband, Nilesh Kansagra (first and sixth from the left) who just moved to town in March, were joined by a niece and nephew who came out from Princeton for the day with their parents.

Nine-year-old Rohan said the ride was “great,” and his sister, seven-year-old Raina, thought it was “amazing.”  The weather was lovely, and I really love the color of those t-shirts, too!

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