Walking changes your brain. It shifts it into neutral, turning revolutions and jostling about freely like a pinball that can’t settle on a direction. It puts information on hold – mask-making techniques, shows to stream, the latest Covid-19 numbers, stores stocking hand sanitizer – and propels you forward out of a shelter-in-place and into a new normal.
As my husband works from our living room couch and my boys learn remotely sprawled on their beds, I have my own project this month, and as odd as that might seem, I’m actually glad. Every weekday at 8am, I leave my driveway, backpack on my back, coffee in one hand, water in the other, and head out solo or with a friend ( 6 feet apart) or family walking to Emory’s Winship Cancer Center for my 9:15am radiation therapy appointment.
It’s still crisp and cool outside, and I’ve got a good time slot vs. a midday the-air-is-now-thick-and-it’s-hot-outside experience on my hands. The regimen is 21 treatments, and after today’s, just 17 remain, until the final one on April 29. There is a freedom about leaving my house on foot as the day is waking up. I get first dibs on it all, dialed up bright green and fresh.
The treatments are simple, all of ten minutes. There’s no pain and it’s surprisingly relaxing to lie on a table, topless, left arm overhead, carefree, languishing on my sterile stainless-steel spell couch. A machine hovers over my left breast, lining up with the sharpie lines covered in tape, which the techs initially drew on me to guide the beams to the exact place. As the equipment moves to treat from different angles, I must hold my breath five or so times, the longest lasting maybe 30 seconds, and a little box placed on my belly monitors my breathing. If I can’t hold my breath, the machine automatically stops, so I avoid any damage to my heart. So far, I’m a good breath holder.
Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you are at the beginning of something. -Fred Rogers
When I’m all done, the automatic door opens and the techs return, and I get up and dressed so the next patient can come in. It’s a well-oiled machine here, with minimal waits and prompt treatments, yet we all feel the pandemic, with masks covering our faces, tape marking where we must wait, and the substantial distance between us. Still, it’s quiet here and respectful, and we each go about our business, getting our treatment done, and then getting on with things outside.
The way home is different. Usually it’s the same route, but now the sun is higher in the sky, so my sweater is balled up in my backpack and my water bottle nearly empty. The houses and flowers and ivy beds and mailboxes I pass are each full of detail, and I notice every bit. Walking along, I think about plans for my own yard and house and future as I soak up these present moments. It’s so different from being at home inside the usual walls and with a predictable routine. I suspect each of these 21 walks and treatments will be distinctly different, with varying paces and conversations and traffic and weather.
When I look back, I will treasure these walks as much as the healing treatments I know I’m extremely lucky to get during this frightening time for our world, our hospitals in particular. I will remember the chatty conversations with girlfriends, and the sounds of my boys’ voices as they talk to one another along the walk, breaking up little twigs they find into small pieces and throwing them or dropping them like breadcrumbs along their path, as boys do. I will savor the houses we voted the prettiest, the waves across the street to occasional passersby, and these spring mornings it seems we alone got to taste.
This apocalyptic landscape, no longer dotted with many cars or people and with closed storefronts, is still full of squirrels and dogwoods and blue skies and pollen. So much is the same, yet it’s all changed. We’re still here, though, putting one leg in front of the other. These times, these talks, every breath is a gift.
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.