For years I walked and walked, probably 5,000 miles, trying to keep my heart beating in my chest at a steady pace. But lately I’ve let the intensity of my walking slip and I now realize how badly I need to get it back. So this morning I walked outside in the cool sunshine, no headphones, just thinking about Mike.
About 15 years ago my long walk began one day early in the autumn, at daybreak. It was the autumn that my husband of 30 years walked out of my life. I was stunned, terrified, in shock; I thought my life was over. Another long sleepless night had led to another dawn. I could not believe that I was still alive, that anyone could survive that kind of heartache and live to see another day. I was desperate, looking for something, anything to stop the pain. I wanted to run away, to disappear, but I had nowhere to go.
About a mile from my house there is a hiking trail that follows the Potomac River for miles on the
Virginia side, just north of . It starts down a steep path, across a creek, under the beltway, until it ends at Washington, DC Roosevelt Island. In the first half-mile of the trail, massive concrete and steel supports under the beltway have become a canvas for incomprehensible messages in spray-painted graffiti, and the din of cars and trucks on the bridge above is deafening. But further down the river, the noise and all evidence of civilization quickly fade away. You feel a million miles away.
Without thinking about the consequences, I went to that trail by the river for refuge. I started walking, then began to run. Like a runaway slave, I ran through the woods, along the river, ran through the undergrowth, scrambled up rocks, across the ford at the waterfall. I didn’t encounter anyone else there that morning. I seldom do—there are flocks of crows, ducks in the river and an occasional blue heron, chipmunks, maybe a deer, but rarely other people, especially so early in the day. When the river is low, sometimes I walk across rocks to a small island. But on that autumn morning I didn’t pause long enough to cross to the island. Several miles down the river my legs failed. Finally, physically exhausted and emotionally spent, I stopped. I realized that I had to retrace my steps, to get back or else simply to die there. If I died who would find my body? How long would it take? I thought about the people I love—my children, my family, my friends and I started walking home. Just put one foot in front of the other, over and over again.
I had nearly forgotten how all these miles walking give me time to settle into solitude, to clear my mind, and find an opportunity for reflection. I know that the intensity of the grief of these early days will dissipate. Somehow I will find quiet strength, a sense of resilience, the toughness of scar tissue. I’ll just keep walking, putting one foot in front of the other.