My husband Arnie and I do all we can to stay safe for ourselves and others, and to reduce the stress level of our kids. But there is one activity that I won’t give up: walking.
A few times a week, I head to a nearby trail that allows me to get outside to exercise after being hunkered at home for hours. I don’t even have to leave my street to see the trail’s dirt path. As I head towards it, a familiar patch of green comes into view.
The street is wide enough for proper social distancing and I’m walking alone so my soft pink cloth mask is hanging on a lanyard around my neck ready for service. But now I put it on since I’m entering a narrow winding trail as I step from the big blue sky into a tiny forest framed with stubby, spiky palmettos and slender stately live oaks.
Gnarly boughs and branches reach high across the trail creating a leafy canopy that sparkles with diamonds of light from the bright sun. The packed dirt path becomes a mosaic of shadows.
The steady crunching of my feet, chirping cicadas and soft rustling leaves create a quiet symphony of nature’s timpani. My pulse slows down even though my pace stays the same.
Then I step out of the shadows back into bright sunlight and onto the straight, wide-open trail by the Intra Coastal Waterway. I happily unloop my mask and take a deep breath pretty sure I can smell the Atlantic Ocean just five miles east.
I walk by a bench that is firmly anchored on medal standards embedded in concrete. The laminated slats are smooth and comfortably aligned, an inviting place to sit and enjoy the soothing flow of the waterway.
This bench used to serve as a little reminder for me to whisper a few prayers of healing and hope as I walked by. Now it’s also serving as a receptacle, a place for me to try to unload my burden of worry and sadness as I think about the rising numbers of Covid cases in my state of Florida, actually everywhere. I think of the millions of lives irrevocably altered by this loss here and around the world. My heart is heavy.
I decide in that moment not to let the Covid count weigh me down.
Today, I need more. So I decide to create my set of numbers, numbers that bring joy, numbers I’ll want to remember. I continue walking down the path, my steps a bit lighter as I think about what I can count.
First, I will count the number of positive encounters on the trail. There aren’t that many people since it’s so hot and humid, but today is Sunday, there may be a few more.
I’m already dripping with perspiration as I walk by another bench. That’s it! I’ll also count the number of benches along the trail.
And finally I’ll use my Apple watch to count my miles making sure to complete least 3.1 miles in honor of my many 5K virtual walking events this year. Maybe on another day I’ll name and count these events, and list all the good causes they are supporting.
In a moment I see a couple walking towards me. We quickly flip up our masks. They’re walking side-by-side. As soon as we get close, they go single file and step to the left as I step to the right. It’s the latest pathway dance craze. Side-step left; side-step right, the social-distance two-step has become a sweet sensation.
We exchange quick waves and “good mornings” and keep going. A few minutes later someone calls from far behind, “Coming up on your left.” I have time to flip up my mask again. He rides by masked and waving, “Have a great day.” “Thanks, you too,” I respond, as my positive-encounter tally hits 3.
After one more mile and four more benches, I’ve walked to the end of the final boardwalk, turned around and started heading back. I see bikers heading toward me on the trail. They see me, stop and step to the side waiting for me to exit the boardwalk. We all do the mask flip and wave as I walk by, saying, “Thank you, have a great ride.” They respond, “Of course, have a good walk.”
That exchange on the boardwalk is a typical example of how people interact since we learned about the importance of social distancing. There are no signs, no guidelines, no posted rules. People just know to wait for others to pass, to step aside, to create as much distance as we can. We respect and care for others; we all stay healthy. We feel good.
And now I’m back at my bench where I sit to catch my breath, calm my heart, and confirm my counts. Seven benches, nine positive encounters on the trail and almost four miles walked. Good numbers.
I don’t need to count the sleepless nights, the missed opportunities to hug our grandsons, the number of times I worry. I accept this is definitely not the best of times.
And yet our lives have also changed in good ways.
We drive less, donate more, tip bigger, and do what we can to make a difference. We read about people who recover after weeks even months in the hospital, the good and brave essential workers, the hope for a vaccine. Our children find creative ways to celebrate with us across the street and across the miles. We are fortunate. We have many reasons to be happy and cherish these times.
For years I’ve kept a daily gratitude journal, jotting down at least three things that make me happy, such as played scrabble with Arnie, called the kids, watched the NY Yankees win another game.
And from now on, I’ll also include these numbers from my daily walks. My own Covid numbers. My way to help make each day count.
Sandi Richmond as been married to Arnie for 52 years, with a tribe of 2 children, 2 children-in-laws, 4 grandsons, and many friends. She savors memories of all the hiking, walking and climbing adventures she’s had with members of her tribe after the age of 70. She looks forward to many more jaunts as soon as everything gets back to “normal.” For now she walks at least a mile every day and just recently started finding new ways to make each walk count. You can follow Sandi on Instagram @sandirichmondr2r, take some walks, keep her company, share your counts.
Image courtesy of Cristina Gottardi.