GRATITUDE


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.

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Day 316

Frank and I took a wrong turn on our way to the tennis courts yesterday and ended up at 10th Street in Manhattan. Naturally when you are in your blue tennis skirt in NYC with no tennis courts in sight the only thing to do is to walk the High Line. In case I haven’t said this before, IMPROVISING is one of the keys to happiness, n’est pas? If one door doesn’t open, look for a window — or in this case, a staircase — and follow it. Up.

We found ourselves on a landscaped, elevated platform above 10th Avenue, on part 1 of what is to be a 1.5-mile walk along a redesigned 1930s freight car line. The High Line is planted with indigenous shrubbery, grasses, and trees that are designed to be regenerative while also requiring little maintenance. But the best thing about the walk, for me, was the art.

High Line art is integrated into the landscape and plays with your senses. Stephen Vitiello’s “A Bell for Every Minute” at the 14th Street Passage is an auditory piece of public art — something I don’t recall ever seeing (or hearing) in my many urban wanderings. He’s literally recorded the sound of 59 different bells from all around the city — from bicycle bells to cathedral bells to dinner bells — and replays them, one a minute, throughout each hour.

The art — like Richard Galpin’s “Viewing Station” brass plate that reframes the horizon — invites you to interact and merge with the landscape in new ways. Which is what our shadows are doing, here.

You can visit the High Line any day, or take a walking tour of the line with the landscape gardeners on the first Tuesday of every month, or stargaze every Tuesday evening at dusk with the a group of amateur astronomers — they even provide the telescopes!

Day 310

At the beach, my daily motto is go with the flow.

Jetty where I did my yoga (I walked there, of course)

If that means doing yoga in the morning on the jetty while the waves crash offshore and the seagulls and sandpipers share the rocks, do it.

If that means singing The Sound of Music duets with your friends at midnight (as long as it’s not bothering anybody?), do it.

If it means jumping off a rock into the water to catch a broken umbrella…well, somebody’s gotta do it. And when the next umbrella breaks, somebody’s got to do that, too.

And if it means MyBigWalk is OurBigRide and it’s your 16-year-old son who’s pedaling beside you well then, you’re a lucky Mom.

Yup, that's my boy.

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 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 217

Mystics, saints, pilgrims, writers, and philosophers have walked through the ages. Saint Francis walked through Italy for years. Thoreau said he had to walk for hours each day to soothe himself and open his mind.

Since I began in October, My Big Walk has brought me a surprising amount of community, optimism, and happiness. How?

By helping me see what’s most important in life, and bringing me into regular contact with other people who are adventurous, spirited, and proactive.

650 miles into my year-long walk, here are few of the most important things that I’ve learned:

1. My mother-in-law is right…exercising every day is the secret to a happy life.

2. An adventurous spirit keeps you young-at-heart.

3. Never say ‘no’ because you’re afraid of looking foolish.

4.. Kindness may go unrewarded, but you only hurt yourself by becoming bitter.

5. Gratitude, generosity, and grace go hand-in-hand.

Day 205

Raphael's Angels

Every day MyBigWalk is visited by scores of people who search for “angels” or “angel pictures” on the web, and arrive here because I posted a copy of Raphael’s Angels on Day 42.

But if there are no accidents, angel-seekers, then this is where you belong:  you were meant to find MyBigWalk and join us.

It’s pretty simple: put on your walking shoes or sneakers, grab

Fra Lippi's Virgin with Two Angels

a sweatshirt, and walk for an hour a day. Smile at people you pass on the road, and invite other people to walk with you. Walking lifts your mood, improves your circulation, and burns calories. Best of all, it gets you AWAY FROM YOUR COMPUTER and out in the world….where you just might find some real angels helping the sick, feeding the hungry, or making the world a more lovely place by spreading grace, gratitude, and generosity.

p.s. Regular walkers, today is my first day back from a terrible cold that was diagnosed as “emerging pneumonia,” which seems to mean the antibiotic cleared up the cough but still left me exhausted. I missed three full days of walking (including one in the pouring rain, which I think might’ve put me in the hospital) and when I finally did go for a walk, I slept thirteen hours that night. But I’m back. And so is the sun. Hurray 🙂

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