This may seem paradoxical. Even though I’ve been disabled for 20 years, I’ve been able to walk for nearly 4 miles most mornings in spite of having extensive spinal surgery 15 years ago. There are mornings when either the pain or the colitis has hold of me and I stay home. I can walk for about an hour but what I can’t do is stand for more than a few minutes. I also have trouble with sitting, but that’s another sob story.
Look, I know that not everyone can walk as far as I can, that some of you can’t walk at all, or just for very short distances. Knowing that, I’m recommending walking to everyone who can, even if it’s for short distances.
Health Benefits of Walking
Of course we all know that walking provides several kinds of health benefits. The benefit I’m going to write about is all in the head, including the usual physical & mental health benefits.
I started walking 5 and 6 miles a day in my mid-twenties because of my inability to run. Running caused far too much pain and gave me shin splints in the bargain as I tried to jog around Lincoln Park in Chicago. I switched to walking in the park, along the lakefront and in the neighborhoods regardless the weather. Okay, okay, I never walked in driving rain or snow storms. I’m talking relatively normal weather here.
I now have a really cool version of a balaclava that I wear when the Hawk is out in Chicago in the dead of winter. It’s really a black mask with slits for my eyes and piece that fits over my nose with two holes for breathing. It’s stitched with a line for my mouth giving me quite the IRA “hardman” appeal–I look like a gunman. I only use this mask when the temperature is below 30 and the wind is above 15 mph, which is more often than not during Chicago winters.
Walking with a Friend
I walked alone until I was 40. One dark night in Chicago at 4 a.m., I woke up for the second time with a home invader prowling around our first floor. After chasing him off and having cops and detectives crawling over every surface in our home, I went out to buy a gun. I’d had it with break-ins, bike thefts, a drug fiend trying to jimmy open my kitchen window as I watched him from the other side and cleaning up after seven break-ins in my car. Chicago 30 years ago wasn’t so safe. Fortunately, the gun shop owner and my wife talked me into buying a dog and that night we did just that, a lovely golden retriever pup who was my companion on all my walks for the next 15 years.
Now I walk with my lovely mutt, Dylan. I find that if I don’t have him with me, I really don’t want to walk. I’m recommending walking with a 4 legged pal if you can, but on your own otherwise.
Take Time to Enjoy Surroundings
When I’m with Dylan on our walks I keep up a running commentary of whatever enters my mind. I admit, as a writer and poet, that all manner of things enter my mind that might not enter yours. But, please, don’t let that stop you. Even if you walk without a dog, keep that running commentary coming.
Why? I’m not exactly sure, as I’m a little too close to myself to be an accurate reporter. But I think it goes something like this: I find, as most will admit, that when walking I see more, hear more and feel more than when I rode my bike–the same in triplicate for driving. When driving I experience so little of the flooding of the senses.
But walking? I suppose the only thing to beat that would be crawling, but I’m not here to recommend that, because, if like me, you’ve had some really bad moments with your body and crawling might bring back entirely too many negative associations. When I walk, it all comes alive when I say it out loud to Dylan.
Now that I’ve moved back to Lincoln Park after an absence of 40 years I’ve found so much has changed while the basics have remained untouched. I love seeing all the new two and three flat buildings that have taken the Victorian architecture and updated it with a turn here and a twist there. Each new element I see, practically with every other lot, I tell Dylan what’s up. It’s as if we’re on an architectural tour and he’s my audience. I’m sure he appreciates the education.
The wonderful thing about walking in my new (old) neighborhood is that now that I’m in my mid-60s I seem to notice more as I’m not filled with a bazillion thoughts that whirled around my head when I was a couple of decades younger.
Now when I’m out seeing the changes and the things that haven’t changed I’m acutely aware that most of my life has been lived, and given my health history, I simply can’t count on more decades. It’s almost as if everything I look at now is surrounded with a slightly golden penumbra. I try explaining this to my pal, Dylan, but I’m convinced the smile I see on his furry countenance is nothing more than happiness of being on the prowl with his pack leader–me.
Make New Friends
Another wonder that Dylan brings me is that everyone who walks towards us beam smiles as they watch my pal marching next to me. Nearly 90% of the people I meet, and especially moms walking their babies in prams, stop to talk to us. As I speak with them their little ones tentatively reach out to pat, or I should say, whomp, Dylan with their tiny hands, I’m thrown back over two decades when I walked my baby son.
It may sound a bit overblown, but I find all this thrilling in a way that never got through to me when I first started my perambulations 40 years ago. Everything seems so alive and fresh to me even though I’ve seen it over and over as you have, too. I think this is the leavings of 50 years in pain.
Being outside and with my pal and meeting both the old and new somehow elevates me for a few hours above the pain. As write this, it occurs to me that sitting in a comfortable lawn chair on the sidewalk next our loft could do the same. Or if I could only walk just a bit–which if I last long enough will surely come–I could sit on a park bench under the shade trees across the street and talk to all the passersby as my pal lies next to me.
I’m not saying this will work for everybody, but some portion of it just might. I know that much of my pleasure comes from being back in Chicago after years of living in NY, LA, and San Francisco. All nice, but not home.
I’m home, and maybe that’s all this is: being home.