Joan sat in her corner booth, as she did every Wednesday at eleven in the morning, and pondered life as she knew it. Was it possible to feel completely exposed even as one lived in a cage? She lifted the plain white porcelain cup and sipped her coffee, staring blankly over the rim of the mug, completely ignoring the papers scattered across the table before her.
A bright spot of color caught her eye, and she let her curiosity get the better of her. She lowered the coffee mug and leaned to the side, struggling for one last glimpse of the red plain coat that had so inexplicably intrigued her. Nothing. Joan sighed with disappointment and dropped another spoonful of sugar into her coffee. She stewed for a moment before deciding to learn from this experience, and turned her contemplation inwards.
She felt frustration: understandable, yes. Excusable? Not so much. Joan took a few deep breaths, emptying her mind of the frustrated thoughts and feelings, sending them out into the ether to be countered by positive ones.
She felt curiosity: where had the person in the bright coat come from, and where had they gone? What were they doing? She shook her head. She had no need to know these things; her life would be neither more nor less full with that knowledge. She breathed the curiosity out as well.
She felt confusion: what was it about that shade of red that had caused her attention to latch on so tightly?
Joan laughed at herself and finished off her coffee in one final slurp. She gathered her papers together and crammed them all into her satchel, not bothering to straighten them, heedless of how many would have dogeared corners by the time she got home today.
In four minutes she was blocks from the coffee shop and halfway through the park, striding along as fast she normally did. She checked her watch, then looked up to see, straight in front of her, the red coat. She laughed aloud, and the old man feeding the pigeons looked up, sharply, quizzically, before dismissing her as just another lunatic.
Last night I went for a walk.
Because my A1C has just increased .2 after coming back exactly the same every time my doctor checked it for years, and I don’t want to lose my feet.
That may sound like a bit of a leap, since I’m not diabetic, but I have too many friends and acquaintances with fewer than ten toes, and my mother is diabetic, and both of my grandmothers were diabetic, and I have PCOS.
I dithered for a while over what to listen to. Finally, I decided on audio books.
I’ve never been able to get into audio books, so I knew I had to listen to something I’ve read many times, something I knew and knew well. So I went with Anne of Green Gables.
It was an excellent choice.
The street was perilously puddlesome, so in the interests of keeping my feet dry, I walked in small circles, looping from one of our driveways to the other, round and around.
I walked, and I listened, and I relaxed into the familiar rhythm of the story. As always, my heart warmed when Matthew picked Anne up at the station, when he decided that he kind of liked her chatter, and when she fell silent at the beauty of the White Way of Delight.
Two chapters took me about a mile and a quarter, and then I came inside to cook dinner, which I am dutifully tracking.
I have not had a good relationship with my body’s abilities for most of my life. I played soccer when I was five, but who knows if I was really any good at it? I don’t even remember winning or losing, and then we moved away. When I was eleven, I broke my left wrist pretty badly, and no matter my weight, I’m physically incapable of doing a pull-up. I actually prefer to do push-ups on my knuckles. I used to be decent at basketball, but I was a poor kid at a rich school where other students had most of the say in who made the team, so tryouts measured popularity instead of skill. I’d given up on basketball by the time I transferred to a school where I would have made the team.
Then, of course, my insides are all fucked up. When I was 21, my kidneys discovered how much they loved producing stones a few times a year. I’m sure I have gout to look forward to one day; my stones are uric acid based, the same as my grandmother’s, and my mother has gout now. Then my lovely polycystic ovaries made themselves known. I even had a nice bout of diverticulitis.
So I never appreciated my physical capabilities, since it seemed that every time I had a chance to explore or exploit them I was consequently denied the opportunity. But you know what? I can do a lot of things. I can juggle, slowly. I can twirl a baton, briefly. I can wield a knife in the kitchen. And I can walk.
I had a major shift in the way I look at my feet a couple weeks ago. I work at one end of the mall, and the deposit gets dropped at the other end, so every night I close up, I hoof it to the back. Obviously, not a long haul by any sense of the word, just a couple minute stroll, but this night in particular I got the feeling that I was actually going somewhere with every step I took. An interesting sensation, not just in my feet and my head, but all over my body. Yes, the surreality of an epiphany while walking the mall, but also a sense of optimistic pride.
I know you know the feeling of starting out and saying to yourself ugh, what a long way to go. For example, when it’s been a long day at work and you’re halfway home and realize that you have to pick up whatever it is from the store, but it also happens to be the eve of some holiday or other that necessitates a gift. I’m thinking of the night before Valentine’s Day one year when I got off an eleven hour shift of pizza-making and had to go to Wally World for toilet paper. There’s no parking, it’s not my regular store so I went in the wrong entrance, the toilet paper’s not where it would make sense to put it, and then there are thirty people on the verge of panic ahead of me in line with their last-minute heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and giant teddy bears. This really happened. All I could think about was how tired I was, how annoying this was, what a long way it would be back to my car, and couldn’t I find a handful of napkins or something to wipe my butt with instead of making this trip?
I objectively remember this feeling, focusing only on my exhaustion and poor, put-upon feet, worn out from sliding around on cornmeal all night. But I don’t think about it anymore, because it’s eclipsed by this amazing feeling of going places. I’m going places! Actual, physical places, not that line of crap promising students hear until it turns into gibberish in their ears.
I can walk with joy. By necessity, it’s certainly still a means to an end, but it’s also become an end in itself. When we’re hiking, even when I’m simply taking my trip to the drop box, I’m doing something. Walking isn’t just an interim period, a commercial break, if you will. It’s an activity with purpose, of which I am consciously partaking.
Walking is no longer something I take for granted. It probably should never have been, as I watched my aunt Morna lose the ability to MS over my teens, but it always has been. It’s almost a dance now. Consider the ground, place the feet, shift the weight, swing the arms, dodge the obstacles. Something so simple, and yet so complex. So normal, and yet so beautiful.
It does feel a little silly to say that I’m proud of myself for walking. In a way, that is what I’m proud of, but mostly I’m proud of myself for noticing. For being present, even when I’m ‘just walking.’ It may have come out of the blue, but I snatched the moment up and continue to hold it close. It feels like more than pride. It feels like healing.