Sunday, January 3, 2021

On The Way

In 1606, James VI and I attempted to formally unite England and Scotland. Something interesting to ponder, but it really has absolutely nothing to do with this post.

Rather, that is the number of miles that I walked in 2020. I am indebted to a friend, Jim Naughton, who posted last month that he sets an annual goal of walking the number of miles in the year, each year. So in 2020 he walked more than 2020 miles. It got me to thinking about how many I'd walked and the answer is 1606.

But that's a deceptive number, because from January - June 2020, I only averaged about 2 miles a day. Then, from July to December I averaged something closer to 7. My life before pandemic included time most days at the gym on an elliptical machine, but I did very little walking. But after the gym closed (and after I got beyond feeling paralyzed by the pandemic) I began a daily practice of walking on the Central Mass Rail Trail, three miles from West Boylston to Holden and then three miles back again, for a total of six miles. Pretty much every day since July 1. Most days I walk early in the morning when at all possible.

At some point, it became clear to me that this walking time was roughly the same as my daily commute from Worcester - Springfield had been - an hour each way. In other words, to think that I did not have the time in the day to do this, but should add another Zoom meeting or two started to sound a bit crazy to me. A lot crazy, actually. 

It has been physically good to do that much walking, and over that six month period I lost over thirty pounds. But the physical benefits have been nothing compared to the emotional and spiritual health, that is perhaps harder to measure but no less important.

I've learned that there are more than four seasons. I walk the same path every day, but you see new things each day and there is a difference between early fall and late fall, for example. I've made a new friend during this time as well, "Dee" walks each day from the opposite direction. He grew up in Beijing, but has lived in Holden for thirty years and retired a couple of years ago. Like me, he has two grown sons. We cross at roughly the halfway point twice each day and, with masks on and six feet apart, catch up on our lives and discuss religion, politics, and the meaning of life. 

My old commute was on the Mass Pike. This new "commute" is much slower and far less stressful, even in a time of pandemic. Walking allows one to see things differently. I've seen a turtle cross the path and I see birds and lots of squirrels and chipmunks and one day, even a raccoon. I see ducks and swans. This pace allows me to consider things rather than see them in a blur. It allows me to focus.

On my walks I occasionally "ponder in my heart" all of the time Jesus and his disciples were "on the road" or "on the way." The walking around the Sea of Galilee, of course. And that famous story about the wilderness road to Jericho and the Emmaus Road and the way through Samaria and on the way to Jerusalem are all key moments in Jesus' life. But there is also Paul's Damascus Road experience, and that encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza. I've decided not to listen to audio books or music on my walks; I'm just trying to pay attention. As Mary Oliver once put it, "I don't know exactly what a prayer is; I do know how to pay attention." So I imagine that I am not alone on the road, that I am walking with Jesus. I am convinced that this has made the pandemic not only bearable but spiritually enriching, to have this quiet time to wander and wonder, each day. 

So in 2021, I am resolved to join Jim Naughton and determined to walk 2021 miles this year. I know that life is lived only one day at a time and there are no guarantees. Lots can go wrong. But I am going to take it one day at a time and on days when walking is not possible, I'll make it up on the weekend. God willing, one day at a time. 

That's all we ever get. But to get through 2021, it means a commitment to average 5.5 miles a day, through all four seasons. Most days I will be on the Rail Trail, but the great thing I have discovered about walking is that you can do it anywhere. My first 5.5 miles of the new year were in West Halifax, Vermont. 

I realize that for some who are reading this, I'm preaching to the choir. But I'm much newer to this practice, so I've got the zeal of a convert! I also realize I have relatives who run a hundred miles in one day. I'm no extremist! I just want to double down on this practice; it's something I want to bring with me from 2020, into 2021. One day at a time. 

So, I'll see you on the way! And I cannot wait until we can walk again together, with friends, without masks. I am always glad to have companions on the way.