Saturday, September 2, 2017

THE HUNGER OF MY STEPS – An Old(ish) Man's Reflection on Mobility

Many thanks to my dear old friend, Robin Easton -- blogger and author of Naked In Eden -- for inspiring this post with her recent Facebook post about healing and her transcendent bonds with Nature.

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Some time in the winter of 1946 I took my first sips. That was all my wobbly little legs and feet could handle.

From then on, though, my abilities—and my appetite for movement—grew exponentially. I played; I jumped; I ran, sometimes just for the sheer joy of it. Eventually I was playing every sport I could. As an adult I skied; I hiked; I led others on hikes. Even in my 60s I was taking stairs, both up and down, two or three at a time. It was delicious.

I got used to that abundance of steps—those flavors of speed, of rhythm, of palpable heartbeat felt all the way to the tips of my fingers and toes. And lately, as
I notice my stride slowing, perhaps shortening a bit, I crave them all the more.

The length and number of one’s steps may abate, but the hunger for them—especially for a person whose whole identity has been about moving, learning, testing his senses—never does.     

Nowadays, I suppose to compensate for the increasingly cautious measure of my gait, I savor not just the number, but the quality, of those steps. I actually think about them and the wonder of being able to move under my own power.

Nowhere do I appreciate this more than in my work as a hospice volunteer, where
I see rather intimately what it looks like to lose the nourishment of one’s steps.

          It was like waving a nice juicy steak 
          in front of a hungry guy with no teeth. 
          I was a starving man.

Travel adds spice to the dish, helps one appreciate the lusciousness of each step. I’ve learned more about life and love and beauty—and certainly about myself—from my adventures in Mexico and other Latin American countries than
I ever could have discovered staying home.

A couple years ago I traveled to Cuba. The trip involved a lot of walking, from exploring the back streets of Old Havana to climbing rugged hills in the western region of Viñales. But I was in pain.

For quite a few years an impinged nerve in my lumbar spine had been worsening, manifesting as intense phantom pain in my left hip. By the time I went to Cuba, I could only walk or stand for a few minutes at a time. I hated being the “old guy” who had to sit out a hike or, at best, lag behind.

Problem was, every other part of my body and spirit put me in about the top ten percent of men my age for fitness. It was like waving a nice juicy steak in front of a hungry guy with no teeth. I was a starving man.

But last August an incredible surgeon at the Mayo Clinic gave me my teeth back. Free from pain, and with a back that now feels like that of a much younger man, I’m once again able to give my wandering feet what they so crave: freedom. Freedom to taste still-more-exotic places, test my capacity for wonder, delight as much in the journey as the destination.

I’ve no idea how many more steps are left on my plate. But I’m going to relish each one, not as if it were the first—for that tentative step back in 1946 was simply instinct. No, I’ll relish each one as if it were my last. I guess I believe that these precious autumn-of-life strides, so full of knowledge, memory and intention, are the ones whose taste I will most remember as I slowly, inevitably, starve away to nothing.


jean said...

I am so happy that you are doing your walking again, Jeff! I have arthritis, so in order to be relatively pain free, I do a lot of walking, gentle yoga and something for alignment called Egoscue E-cises which have been life savers for me. It will be an ongoing commitment, but I will do whatever it takes to keep on moving! You and Robin are cut from the same cloth as I, so we will keep cheering one another on tell the very last step!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Jean, I'm so glad you've found some relief from your pain. It seems so cruel that the one thing that seems best medicine for both body and soul (walking) is denied some folks by pain. You keep going, my friend!

Anonymous said...

Dear, dear Jeffrey, I teared up reading this, PHEW!, was even waiting and watching for the post because I knew it would be good. And it is SO beautiful and earthy and organically rising from a soul who truly knows. Ever since breaking my hip and learning to walk again and each day getting stronger, I've grown to savor---even hunger for---every single step. I don't even want to put my shoes on for a moment. And I don't want to miss a day of walking. My walking is not without pain, but the more I do it the stronger I become. But my realization, although not as eloquently expressed as yours, is that since breaking my hip I seem to deeply hunger to walk, and I am SO grateful for each day that the Living Earth kisses my bare feet. I literally give thanks every single day, and then wake the next morning ready to jump out of bed and out the door to touch the Earth all over again, to feel my hips move, my stride increase in length and strength. Yesterday and today, I ACTUALLY did a very light jog for about 60 seconds, while walking, once yesterday, and twice today. That is a first for me since breaking my hip. I will stay with 2 x 60 sec burst for a week or so and feel my way into it. I've never been a jogger, a great "strider", yes!, but nonetheless it is freedom to start to even feel 60 seconds of very light barefoot jogging on a dirt/sand road. Your story gives me great hope and joy and LIFE!! You are a dear, precious, aware soul. Thank you for all that you give and are. Robin (Easton)

Jeffrey Willius said...

Dear Robin -- Not only was this post inspired by you, it was, at least in part, FOR you. I know the stormy seas you've been navigating since your injury, and marvel at the depth of your faith -- in yourself; in the love awaiting one who chooses to see it; and most of all in the healing power of Nature. I've always been in awe of the intimacy and depth of your connection with Nature, now more than ever. I celebrate with you the hunger of your steps...and their sure-and-steady return to "fighting weight."

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