Life on Foot

Life on Foot

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body!

Life on Foot

It began over thirty years ago when my husband and I realized that we were never able to finish a sentence, let alone a paragraph, in a household in which three spirited daughters were coming of age. We realized at about the same time that we’d forgotten the simple pleasure of putting one foot in front of the other and taking a walk. And not on a treadmill at some gym, but outside in what my grandmother used to call the “fresh, clean air.”

The inspired idea: We would take a walk every evening after dinner, and discover not just why we’d decided to travel the road of life together, but also get to really know our town. Hadn’t we moved to this place, after all, because it was such a pretty, Norman Rockwellian-kind of place with a true Main Street?

So one June night, it began. Two weary people who would have gladly collapsed on the family room couch after dinner, we forced ourselves to open that kitchen door and hit the tree-lined streets. Initially, we hated it.

Huffing and puffing — a testament to our disgraceful lack of fitness — we marked out a route: up a nearby street, down another, left at the next, and so on. My husband, the quantitative sort, did the math: we’d cover 2.3 miles.

We almost didn’t make it on the second night. That family room sofa looked mighty inviting, and we would happily have surrendered to it. But one of our kids issued the ultimate challenge: “So are you guys quitting already?”

Nancy didn’t know that she was shaming us into decades of almost-daily walking.

Off we marched, slamming the kitchen door behind us. No way were our kids going to have such lethal ammunition to use against us.

When the original route got terminally familiar, we devised two others. When those, too, became ho-hum, we looked for new roads to conquer, at least figuratively. Moorestown, New Jersey, our hometown, we discovered, was bigger and more interesting than we’d realized. And it was a perfect town to conquer on foot.

Over the years, new patterns evolved. As our daughters grew up and left home, we sometimes took to walking later. The neighborhoods we’d explored by dusk looked different after the 11 o’clock news. Often, we were the only souls out and about by the light of the moon, meandering past the local convenience store or the firehouse.

Many nights, we had our best conversations on those streets. We also argued, laughed, walked off anger and celebrated simple joys like the changing of the window décor at the local gift store and real estate office, or the delicious smell of the grass on East Oak Avenue after a summer rain.

On daytime walks, we would stop to buy a few groceries at the little old supermarket where the checkers may not know your name, but they surely know your face. Unlike the big, modern mega-supermarket bruisers all around it, this little place was a reminder of the old corner grocery, and we celebrated it every time we dashed in for a quart of milk or a dozen eggs on one of our daily rambles.

The kids left, and still we walked. Middle age was upon us, and with it the usual renunciations: tricky backs, insomnia, an urgent need for stronger glasses. But somehow, a walk always helped.

Somewhere in our late fifties, we changed our routine. We increased our walking distances incrementally, just to test ourselves, and discovered that with just that little effort, waistbands were looser and our annual blood work was coming back with better numbers.

We also were finding that the loneliness of that famous empty nest was alleviated if we both knew that come nightfall, we could commune. Corny as it sounds, we also drew closer at this “just you and me, kid” stage.

“Save it for our walk,” I’d urge my husband when he was about to share an idea, a snippet from his day, or even just a joke. That postponing somehow made the notion of zipping up heavy jackets as the January winds howled a bit less ominous. My guy had a great anecdote for me — and I had a big idea for him.

I could never count the number of vacations planned on our walks, the family problems solved, the home renovations imagined and largely discarded. Ditto for the world crises resolved, the budgets debated, the books analyzed.

Almost more than our physical health, our nocturnal walks did wonders for our emotional health. If one of us was down, the other could sense it and try to help. So many times, one of us needed a shoulder, or gave one.

Not to brag, or tempt the fates, but I wear a smaller size now than I did in my twenties. I love slipping into size-eight pants — but more than that, I love the feeling of robust good health that I enjoy.

Walking — not strolling, mind you, but walking briskly and regularly — has lowered our weight and raised our self-esteem.

Over our long years of walking, the simple gifts of our town’s streets have given us a sense of connection to place. I suppose urban dwellers would find it utterly weird that we actually care about how this or that stranger’s fence or patio or garden is coming along, but to us, it’s second nature.

Besides, we have a reputation to maintain. We’ve become known in our tiny universe for our year-round walks, and occasionally, when we’ve been on vacation, neighbors will ask in alarm whether we’re all right. And the ultimate compliment? It came recently from a woman at the cleaners dropping off her dry cleaning as I was picking mine up. She stared at me for a long moment, then said, “Oh, I recognize you. You’re the street-walker!”

I took it as a high compliment.

~ Sally Schwartz Friedman ~

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