On Friday I Went for a Walk

A year ago at this time, Mark had been walking for a week (actually, he was on Day 008), and had been posting videos that we were all watching, as his following grew larger. He was in New Haven, CT, and had just stayed with friends. The day was rainy, but per usual, this didn’t bring Mark down. He’d later walking into a Taco Bell and yell, “I’ve got the hook-up,” hoping to win 100 bean tacos. He didn’t.

As I’ve been watching his daily videos a year out from when they were made, it feels similar to last fall. I’m still learning things (as we all were) and his life and actions make me want to be a better person.

Last Friday, we were at Brown, as colleagues from the library and the school’s literary arts department remembered Mark and touched on his legacy at the school. One of the speakers (I don’t recall which one) talked about Mark and his walk and I jotted down a note to myself, “start walking every week.” What I was telling myself is that I needed to do a walk weekly where I left my house and walked out a certain distance. My intention was to think about Mark and his own walking practice during my own walks.

The past week has been a hectic one. I had two articles to write for the auto trade magazine that I write for. I am also selling Medicare Advantage insurance this fall during Medicare’s Annual Open Enrollment Period (AEP) and have two seminars planned for early next week. I’m also tutoring at a private school four to five evenings a week. Still, I didn’t want to miss the chance to get out and do a walk and think about Mark and what he was doing like I’d planned to do a week ago.

Today was the day. I was up early, doing my final edits on my articles and had them done by 8:30. I changed into my walking clothes, grabbed my water sling and fanny pack, and I was out the door a little after 9:00. My plan was to walk out and back for a total distance of six miles.

The first 35 minutes were uneventful. I even did a video of my own. Compared to Mark’s, it’s pretty pathetic. I apologize for sounding so out of shape and out of breath. I was walking uphill while doing it. Again, I don’t recall Mark ever sounding out of breath.

When I got to the intersection of Coombs Road and Route 24 (known as Harpswell Road), a truck heading south made a left-hand turn onto Board Road in front of me as I was waiting to cross. A Prius following close behind the truck swerved to the right and came right at me. I had to jump back or I would have been hit. The woman continued on like nothing had happened.

This pissed me off. But I’d read a book this week by Tom Rath that talked about “assuming good intent,” and being “80 percent positive,” so I had to find a way to turn my attitude around after I made my way across Harpswell Road and began walking east on Board Road. I was struggling and swearing aloud when I realized why this woman nearly hit me.

Driving a car causes all of us (myself included) to lose our humanity and our ability to be humane. We become an extension of a machine that we know has lethal capabilities. Only by consciously getting outside of our cars literally are we able to break free of this and reconnect with our humanity and our humane capabilities.

This woman wasn’t trying to hit me, but simply doing what drivers often do—focus intently on what’s directly in front of them (the truck turning left)—while in probably 95 percent of the cases with drivers, being oblivious to pedestrians or anything else that’s not a vehicle.

Don’t misunderstand me, here. I am not absolving this woman of her responsibility. If she had hit me and seriously injured, or even killed me, she would have been at-fault. But, I was able to “talk myself down” and recognize what had just happened.

I completed my walk. The remaining hour and fifteen minutes was meaningful as I zoned back in on why I was doing my little six-mile walk.

When I was close to home, I removed my shoes and walked about ¼ mile barefoot. My feet felt pretty good, although rocks hurt the soles of my feet from time-to-time. When I got back to Route 24, I put my shoes back on and walked the rest of the way back to the house with shoes on my feet.

I marvel that Mark was able to accomplish so many things on his two walks. He didn’t get to complete the second one, but it wasn’t due to any short-comings on his part.

Taking time to go out and walk and remember him also offers a shade of meaning and helps temper the pain and loss.

Walking and Remembering

I’ve been thinking about walking. Admittedly, thoughts like these have their origins in reflections backward to this time one year ago. Mark said “goodbye” to his house at 38 Pleasant Street, and walked down the hill on his one-way street commencing yet another cross-country journey into the unknown. He’d done a similar one in 2010, but this one was different in a host of ways.

He let readers know some of the reasons why he was making this trek. I knew the road had been calling out to him across the expanse of the previous six years since he stepped into the Pacific after wearily making his way across the sands of Santa Monica Beach at the end of that epic march.

Mark wasn’t the first writer who’d been drawn to the realm of walking. Perhaps the obvious name that crops up when talking about writers who valued the walking experience would be Thoreau. There have been a host of others. There seems to have been some deeper, intuitive connection between walking, thinking, and then, writing. We of course have by-and-large lost this. I’m sure part of this stems from being immersed completely in our American version of Happy Motoring.

I found an older article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik. He details how at one point in the mid-19th century, walking was actually “the dominant spectator sport in America.” Could be that if enough fervently patriotic football fans abandon the NFL, then walking might make a comeback? That would be a shame because if there was a figure who could captivate fans of professional walking, it would have been Mark. Continue reading

The Kindness of Strangers

I met Richard one morning early in 2016 at the Bath Y. He was a regular and I’d see him per my routine early swims, usually Tuesdays and Fridays (or sometimes Thursday, if I couldn’t swim on Friday).

The Y is similar to other places where I’ve worked out in the past (like Auburn’s Planet Fitness)—the early AM workout crowd tend to be creatures of habit and generally, a little older. We’re there to get our reps/laps/miles done and then, it’s off to whatever the day throws at us. Across the context of two strangers’ paths crossing, a bond sometimes develops. You see the same person week after week. Unless you’re a misanthrope, you’ll have a conversation or two. Before long, seeing that person becomes part of the routine.

Richard’s 14 years older than me. That means he fought in Vietnam, is nearing retirement, and has accumulated a bit more life experience translating into wisdom. He’s solidly middle-class, probably a tad more conservative than I am, but I know he didn’t vote for Trump, either based the accumulation of our AM conversations.

There was something inherently likable about him. He was a no BS type of guy, and I have always had an affinity for males of that stripe. As the months passed, I found out he was working part-time at The Home Depot in Topsham. He’s “retired,” but like many seniors, retirement now means holding a job to supplement retirement savings—Americans are living longer and longer and staying topside costs slightly more than chump-change. Continue reading

Invasive Prayer

Prayer’s been all around us since Mark was killed in January. People have forced prayer on us, even though none of us (including Mark) held out any hope that petitioning a deity would alter the universe in any way. I’m still curious where God might have been back on January 21. Perhaps he doesn’t travel Highway 90 in Florida.

Every time a tragedy occurs, Facebook lights up with “prayer” and a host of other religiously-draped sentiments. While some of those directly affected might find comfort knowing that there are a legion of warriors out there “wrestling with their God,” directing His/Her “comfort and healing” earthward, lives remain forever altered.

I’m not telling anyone what to believe. If you want to talk to your conception of a deity, have at it. However, to impose those ideas that have no actual basis in science and reality seems invasive at the very least.

Here’s what I think about the platitudes and prayers offered to those of us who’ve had our lives turned upside down by tragedy. Prayer and words that may or may not be infused with anything more than a sentiment help make you feel better and even heroic. But for us living with loss each and every moment of every day, it changes nothing. In fact, when I’m forced to endure another round of this happy horseshit, it just makes me tune it out. Continue reading