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Just keep walking

Posted: April 22, 2014 10:53 a.m.
Updated: April 23, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Sylvia Plath said, in her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, “There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.” While I do fully agree with the literary force of genius that is Plath, if that had been my statement, I would have written it: “There must be quite a few things a hot bath or a long walk won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”

My love for a good long walk is something I inherited from my mother and I’m thankful she impressed the appreciation for it upon me at a young age. I grew up, literally, in the middle of nowhere. In Mayesville, to be precise, on a long, lonely stretch of road where our nearest neighbors were 2 miles away and then after them, there wasn’t another neighbor for another 2 miles.

Kids today probably hear that and cringe and think “How boring!” We didn’t have internet or iPhones and I’m so glad because it made us actually go outside and find our own entertainment. It also showed us the necessity of being social and making friends with the kids who lived in town. You can only play with your sisters for so long before you start plotting how to get them adopted by a family far away.

My mom’s favorite thing in the days of my childhood and even still now, was to break away from the kids for an hour or so in the evening and go for a walk. My sisters and I could never understand it. We’d wonder why she didn’t want to be around us and what it was she was doing on these long walks. Certainly she wasn’t going anywhere, because there was nowhere to go. And she wasn’t seeing anyone, because, as I’ve already mentioned, there simply was no one to see.

It became a real mystery to us and we tried to discern why she went on these daily excursions, taking only herself and one or two of our many Great Danes. If we wanted to go with her, she would always allow it, but only under one condition. No whining. If we whined, we had to turn around and go back home.

At various times, we all tried to go with her on these walks, but just as we’d suspected … they were boring. She was just walking quietly along. Inevitably, we would start to whine and then we’d be sent back to the house. We eventually came to understand that walks were her thing to do on her own.

It wasn’t until I entered high school and started having to deal with the social drama of liking boys and being at war with other girls because of these boys that I began to understand the need for walks. I remember coming home from school and feeling tired yet anxious, an odd combination of emotion that I now know to be stress.

It was new to me, but I felt restless. Talking just didn’t do enough to calm me; I had to move … I had to walk. I remember going for a walk one day after a particularly rough day where the boy I liked had announced he was “dating” another girl. I’d wanted to cry all day, but I had held it in at school.

When I finally got home and went for my walk, I got about 12 steps and I was bawling. I kept walking, tears streaming down my face, wondering how and why this had happened. My “heart” hurt, but I kept walking because it just felt better than standing still.

I probably walked about 4 miles that day and I didn’t notice anything around me for a long time because all I could think about was my own misery, but as the pain lessened, I began to pick my head up and take in the sights around me -- the honeysuckle, the cat tails, the birds and squirrels and occasional wild rabbits. These were signs to me that no matter what devastation my little heart endured, life went on. No heartbreak was so terrible that it could stop nature.

I began to feel better and I realized that this was the way to happiness. You just had to walk until you didn’t feel sad or angry or stressed or confused anymore. Maybe the walk didn’t fix the problem, but it fixed me enough so that I was clearheaded and better able to deal with what life threw my way.

I’ve used walks to help me deal with heartbreak, loneliness, anxiety, boredom -- the whole spectrum of human emotion. They are “my things” just like they were and still are for my mom. I’m sure, if I’m so lucky to be a parent myself, walks will be my kids’ “things” too.

So, if you ever pass me walking and see a scowl or a tearful expression on my face, don’t worry. By the end of my walk, I’ll be smiling again.

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