Happiness


Dear Friends & Fellow Walkers,

I’m on my way to Cambodia soon, where I’ll be walking &  cycling every day, visiting two shelters that are home to 114 formerly trafficked Khmer girls as well as the  orphanage and schools where the nation’s youngest and most vulnerable are living, learning and growing with help from our daughter and from everyone who’s supported our cause for liberty, justice and freedom for all.

Some of what we’ll see and share will be difficult to read about.  But as we know, even in the face of sadness and grief there’s always hope and joy in our world, and we owe it to ourselves and to the memory of those who are gone to look for that joy and celebrate it.  Ending suffering where and when we can is part of being human, and I believe it is an important reaction to the events in Connecticut last week.   For  years now I’ve found myself returning to the Prayer of St. Francis whenever I am challenged by life, and today it feels particularly relevant:

Outside Newtown High School

Outside Newtown High School

Where there is hatred let me sow love.  Where there is injury, pardon.  Where there is doubt, faith.  Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where  there is sadness, joy. 

My daughter Melissa tells me that the Khmer are beautiful people who are grateful for even the smallest acts of kindness and generosity.  When I visit their small country I’ll be posting photos, insights, and reflection on what we see, learn and do.  I hope you’ll join me on My Second Big Walk, and share your own stories of joy, learning, and adventuring.

See you in the New Year!

(P.S. This picture was taken on our last day in Austria, July 2012.  Yes, friends, I’ve been living, loving Image

adventuring and writing.  I hope you’ll welcome me back and share your own journeys in life!  In the photo are, from left: my nephew Jack Albanese, my mother-in-law Rosemarie Helm, my son John Albanese, my husband Frank, me, my daughter Melissa Albanese, and our fabulous host in Medraz, Austria — Peter Fischlechner.

Day 347

I walked into my local town hall in a press capacity for the first time in ten years today.

Ten years ago — the year I turned 40 — I was a reporter for our local newspaper and spent many afternoon and evening hours in that very building covering government matters and town meetings. I started out nervous that year and grew into  the job  with the help of seasoned reporters and editors who gave their patience, their guidance, and sometimes their frustration to me.

I thought fondly of our younger selves  this morning as I parked my car and walked through the parking lot toward the double glass doors.   It’s not often that we get to retrace our own steps and remember how much has happened in our lives and in ourselves since we last walked the same path. And here’s what I was thinking  — it’s not really  the same path as it was ten years ago. It looks the same, but it’s been trod by many people, with many hopes and dreams and fears. And it’s not the same walk, because I’m not the same person. We’re never the same people we were when we last crossed even the most familiar threshold. Every day, every year, experience changes us: some things make us stronger, others weaker; some richer, others poorer. But everything pours into the same place — the richness that make up the fabric of our lives and of our selves.

Are we always the same, or are we never the same? I say both. This morning and yesterday morning, last year and this year, a decade ago, and myself at 50: I had the same name, the same heart, the same soul.  But they’ve been repaved, worn down, built up, broken, cared for, made fun of, and loved.

That’s an awful lot to think about when you’re on your way to take a photograph of school crossing guards being sworn in. But that’s the kind of thing I think about — so that you guys can peek in here from time to time and think to yourselves either — “Man, she’s nuts,” or “Thank god somebody else can articulate how I feel living in the gray area I call my own life.”

Probably, hopefully, you think and you feel both ways. As I do.

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 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 262

Walking across Central Park is a lot like walking in Soho now that the Twin Towers are gone. I used to use the Towers as a compass point.  No need for the North Star when those landmarks were visible from anywhere, marking due South.

But ever since the Towers fell, I find myself easily disoriented downtown as soon as I’m off the grid or away from a major avenue. Often I am reduced to asking something innocuous, like “is Broadway this way?” so that I can orient myself without looking like an absolute loser. It’s funny, because Frank told me the most common question he gets from tourists (read – people with accents and guidebooks) in midtown is “Which way is the Hudson River?” I guess everybody’s trying to look like they know where they’re going in NYC. But that’s another story.

I hate being disoriented below West 4th Street almost as much as I hate being disoriented in Central Park, above 72nd Street.

It should be easy to walk across the park from the West to East side or visa versa without getting lost: walk away from the buildings behind you, and go toward those in front of you.

And it would be easy if Central Park didn’t dip in the middle — a pretty deep valley, really — and the sidewalks wind and curve in no relation to the road. A few years ago I was showing a visitor from France across the park. It turned dark, and started to rain. We kept our spirits high, and hurried toward the buildings as soon as I saw them…only to find ourselves back on the West side, where we’d started.

Today when I walked through Central Park I was determined to enjoy the walk without getting lost. I had a lunch date uptown, and a library book in my hand. I entered around East 72 Street, and took a seat beside the Alice in Wonderland statue, where I watched kids of all ages — from toddler to teen — climbing up and scrambling around Alice and her friends.

From there I went North-West-East-South-West-and-North again. I almost got lost. But then I saw the Belvedere Castle and soon spied the lovely twin spires of the San Remo Apartment towers reaching above the trees, and I knew I’d made it across town without getting lost. Which felt like something of an accomplishment, even if it shouldn’t have!

I celebrated by having lunch with Jenny at PicNic on Broadway and 101st Street. Their Lyon Salad is yummy, if you’re up that way you should try it.

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 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.

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