For the majority of my professional career I have taken walk breaks. Time out to walk the streets around wherever I’m working. Time to get up and move—like recess for grown-ups. Over the years I’ve had multiple walking partners, coworkers and friends, but for the majority of those years (at two different employers and during lunch dates in between) I have had a primary, if not permanent, walking partner. . . Benjamin.
Benjamin and I walk together. He’s my motivator. He’s convinced me to walk in the heavy heat of summer where I feel like I might melt if we walk the whole way. He’s had me walk in below freezing temperatures, with ice streaming from the sky, and the wind so strong it could pull us along by our umbrellas. I protest, but he is persistent, and we have walked in some horrible conditions. We’ve also enjoyed the splendidness of the most pleasant of days—when we’ve both been tempted to just keep walking away from work until we reach a bar with a patio and pitchers of margaritas.
On our walks, we talk. In those talks we discuss everything from politics to quantum physics to poop jokes. We’ve discussed our personal lives, invented silly stories about squids, and come up with several solutions for world peace—not that anyone would listen. Hundreds of miles we walked. Hundreds of hours we talked.
Then, Benjamin took a new job.
My first walk without him. I felt small.
Our walking path consists of five streets, each street is shorter than a quarter mile. We had markers to adjust the length of the walk—the bus stop, the stick AKA the for sale sign AKA the place where none of those marker exist anymore, the flood line, and the river. The first solo walk, I made it halfway through the path, to the bus stop, our short walk path. When I turned around to head back, I saw the street end in front of me. . . the distance felt to great to cover.
I took a step, then another, and another. I’d like to say “before I knew it, I was back at the office,” but that didn’t happen. No, the distance didn’t seem any smaller, the task I’d done every day for years didn’t seem any more doable, but I knew I had to do it. Trucks whizzed by me in the office park, hawks circled ominously, the world was big and I was small.
When I walked with Benjamin my world was confined to an area of a few feet. I paid attention to him and I paid attention to me. My focus was confined to about a six foot square area, enough room for me, Benjamin, and our thoughts. Benjamin would often joke about me not noticing physical things on our walk—signs, houses, litter—but that was because those things didn’t matter to me.
I knew our route was long, but only because of how much time passed unnoticed. Somehow the length that we walked (over two miles round trip for a full walk to the river) only registered if I knew I had a project that needed my attention back at the office—or if the heat got too unbearable. So we had markers, turning points for times when either of us needed to get back. Now that I’m alone, I see the open sky, I see the distance to the next marker, and I feel small. I made it all the way to the river today, and for a moment, as I turned and looked toward home, the idea of being able to make it back seemed impossible.
I walked on, and I finished a section just to turn and see the distance to the next turn appear, somehow further than the one before it.
That’s all I can do, isn’t it? When faced with the impossible, I keep walking, and eventually, after what can seem like forever, I make it.
Every part of life can feel like that. Impossible, slow moving, and then victorious for just a moment until the next thing arrives. Every one of life’s journeys doesn’t makes you feel small, and with time I know my solo walks will be less daunting, but everything in life is easier when your focus is less on what you’re doing ,and more on who you’re doing it with.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I can see the next marker.