A few weeks ago, when I was approaching the doctor appointment where I would likely be able to stop using my crutches and put some weight on my foot—actually walk!—I grew more and more nervous. Eight weeks (and two days) is a long time to go without walking, and my mind just sort of stopped being able to imagine my body moving that way. I coached myself through the nerves by reminding my brain that I’ve been walking for, oh…47 years. I even asked my older sister if she remembered any stories about when I started walking as a baby, or if I was an early or late walker (alas, she did not).
I worried and fretted and had bad dreams until finally that appointment came. My podiatrist fit me with a walking boot and then it was time. My hands were shaking. I had to take several deep breaths before I actually did it. And that first step…wow. My leg felt so weak. Not just my foot, or my calf which had withered away, but from toenail to hip, my muscles were jelly. I was determined not to cry in front of the doctor and Kendell, and I didn’t. (Must maintain badass status.) But there were tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.
How strange to be terrified of walking, that most human motion.
Three weeks later, I have now been spending some time walking in actual shoes. I still sometimes wear my boot, if I know I will be on my feet for a long time. I actually have to practice walking, because my gait is totally off and I am easing in that tendon, not wanting to stress it out at all, afraid of any little twinge or pull.
(I need to start physical therapy but it feels overwhelming.)
And I have been thinking about walking.
In boots on the top of a mountain, when I’ve made it to my destination and can just stroll around, seeing what I can see there.
Along a sandy beach, carrying my sandals.
Carefully, barefoot, along the stony, burbling path of a creek.
Around a city like a flaneuse.
Places I have walked in my life: across the sandstone and the sand at Lake Powell. The Green Sands beach on the Big Island. The soft green grass of the yard of my childhood home. On tiptoe atop a balance beam, in ballet shoes across a stage. Down streets in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Brussels, Rome. Into and out of hospitals and in paces across waiting rooms, anxious for yet another of Kendell’s surgeries to be successful. In front of the white board in my classroom. For a final time, out of the home I grew up in. Into a restaurant to meet a friend. Down the hall into the baby’s room, just to watch him sleep.
I have annoyed my teenagers by walking too fast through the mall and been annoyed by slow walkers in the exit line at Costco.
And I have thought about how, for those 47-something years of walking, I took it for granted. It’s what we do, as humans, the way we move within our world, the way we experience and process and get places. I never really pondered a life without walking, until now, when my two-thirds-of-a-mile loop walk takes me 20 minutes to finish and my foot is pounding when I’m done. So slow. So awkward. And knowing that even that, the slowness, the awkward pace—even that is a blessing. A privilege.
So as I continue on, improving my walking ability (I sometimes feel like a very old, slightly wrinkled, surprisingly grey-haired giant toddler these days), I will keep this knowledge. Walking, which seems so quotidian, is magic. I won’t ever take it for granted again.