Walking to, with, or away from.

I believe in walking, or in putting one foot in front of the other, if you prefer.

Almost every day, I leave my house in the city to “run errands.” I put it in quotes because sometimes my errand is to pick up groceries or iboprufen, or to run to the hardware store for light bulbs. Just as often, the errand is just to check that the stores are still there. At any rate, I leave the house at least once a day and walk a mile (or two, or five), errand or no errand. I’m not precisely getting exercise.

Walking the way I do it is not about fitness, even though it serves that purpose just fine.

No, the older I get, the more I realize that fitness is an incomplete, vague goal. Fitness for what? For being alive? I think perhaps I will choose to be alive, instead of trying to prepare myself for the possibility of being alive.

Walking in the sense I mean isn’t just locomotion. It’s walking to, of course, but it’s also walking with, or even walking away from. To, with, or away from nothing in particular. The destination appears as a result of the walking, not prior to it. Or perhaps the destination is right there within me. I just leave the house. Every day. I walk out with my thoughts and my feelings, letting them settle, paying attention to how I feel, trying to look at what’s around me.

I do not walk fast. I just go. Sometimes I happen upon a bus stop, and on impulse I board and go somewhere farther away (I have a pass), and when I arrive, often I turn and walk back home. Sometimes I take photos of what I see. By the time I return to my house, I have been out in the world long enough. I have been around the products of human ingenuity and of human carelessness, around the glorious and hilarious variety of human beings and of urban wildlife, to know who I am and what I think and how small I am. I come back into the house feeling as if I’m the appropriate size.

At some times in my life, I also simply walk away. That’s how I find out I’m really upset. When I was young and wrestling with family dynamics and early failures, I used to walk in the middle of the night on the college campus near my house, drifting in the darkness between the trees on the wooded path I knew by heart, and avoiding other human beings entirely.

When my mother died, I had no space to grieve. The morning after her death, I left the house before the sun came up, and walked for miles. Because I took a few photos of odd things I saw, I know I covered the miles between Center City Philadelphia and a gazebo in the heart of Fairmount Park, just walking. Walking, looking, and thinking. When I was able to consider coming back, I did.

I’ve already been out walking today. It is cold and I’m busy, so it was a short walk. I paid some bills, mailed a check, deposited some cash, and took a couple of buses in between. But the errands weren’t the purpose of the walk.

The bank teller gave me his recipe for hot chocolate, a white man on the bus was evangelizing a black man in a loud and resonant voice, and I picked up a fallen trash can and placed it upright, but those little events weren’t the purpose of the walk, either.

The point was to go. To go, and then to come back. The most important thing that happened was that the pavement traveled past me. The buildings got bigger and then smaller as I walked. The cars hissed along in the road, carrying their human freight. And I put one foot in front of the other, and paid attention.

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