As I was locked down — literally — in my bedroom-turned-office-turned-break room, suddenly the impetus to move, whether my legs, my eyes or my perspective, evaporated. In a one-bedroom apartment that then became occupied 24/7 by two humans and endless conference calls, the bathroom was suddenly only four steps away; the coffee machine was five. Job and life distinctions evaporated.
My workday expanded. My world narrowed. I stopped moving. And then I started walking.
In the before times, the idea of going for a walk during the workday was an aspirational nonstarter. Who had the time? But Covid-19 highlighted for me how the rhythms and necessities of office life had once paradoxically required me to move around — to the kitchen for water, down the hall to the bathroom, up two flights of stairs to a conference room, down and around the block for lunch.
Meanwhile, my workday expanded. My world narrowed. I stopped moving. And then I started walking.
With each first step, I can feel my shoulders ratchet down from their now semi-permanent home just below my jaw line. I breathe in the familiar, somewhat fresh, scent of outside. With my friends Grace (Potter) and Miranda (Lambert) and Brandi (Carlile), I wander, letting my eyes focus on new-to-me objects not illuminated by an LED screen, on discarded White Castle cartons (Do I want a hamburger for dinner?) and tacky basement apartment light fixtures (Did that guy just totally catch me creeping?).
The randomness is blessedly the point. I swear I can feel my neurons regenerating. I let my mind shake itself free from the restrictions of calendar updates and deadlines and KPIs and grammar. I allow myself to lose focus.
I wouldn't call myself a good walker, to be clear. I have one colleague who for several months last year routinely walked 10 or more miles at a stretch; that's not me, and it's probably never going to be me.
In the winter, I walked circles around my Brooklyn block. This occurred mostly in the darkening late afternoon, my race against the sun a comically futile exercise. I walked, eyes watering, in the freezing cold. I walked into the wind, stupidly; I walked through the snow. It hasn't always been fun, but I've never returned home regretful.
As we contemplate a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel, I hope I keep taking these random, short walks. No goal or destination needed.
I'm 33 years old with a good, and hopefully secure, job that I enjoy. I'm also a caffeine addict with raging imposter syndrome and a seeming unwillingness to create sane work-life boundaries. I don't like yoga or meditation and have found my tolerance for alcohol on school nights has, depressingly, decreased precipitously as I've gotten older.
And so I walk. And as we contemplate what hope feels like, I plan to continue taking these random, short walks. No goal or destination needed.
Of course, the health benefits of walking are well studied and well publicized. Studies have shown a whole host of benefits, from cardiovascular health to increased creativity and weight loss. What I think is perhaps slightly less well known is how little you have to walk to reap some of those benefits. I don't have time — or, at least, I tell myself that I don't have time — to walk briskly for 45 minutes in the middle of the day. But just 12 or 15 minutes of walking can boost your mood. And the benefits are even better if you walk around thinking nice thoughts about strangers, according to these saintly Iowa State psychologists.
I may not be walking around silently wishing passersby well, but walking has given me something intangible, ephemeral and surprisingly precious. And, as shown in some of those aforementioned studies, walking is actually great for productivity and creativity. So sometimes I do, with mild guilt, use walks to work; stepping out of my bedroom-box has helped me solve problems and brainstorm solutions.
But that's not why I want to keep walking, even after life goes back to whatever semblance of normal awaits.
Last week, I got my first Covid-19 vaccination shot. (The impact of its scientific mini-miracle was blunted only slightly by my lifelong and increasingly embarrassing needle phobia.) A few days later, I found a 20-minute hole in my calendar just past the time when most people have finished lunch. I put on Grace Potter's "Daylight" — a personal pandemic favorite — and turned the volume up.
"Bathe me in your warm glow," she sang. "Show me what I've always known, show me that I'm not alone."
I watched a blond dog in tiny little booties pick its way across the sidewalk. I wondered whether I should break my diet and get ice cream later. I felt the breeze in my mini-mullet and remembered how badly I needed a haircut. I blessedly lost focus. I walked toward the sun.
Other essays from our project on what we should keep post-pandemic:
- Covid masks save American lives. They still can (and should) post-pandemic, by Dr. Megan Ranney
- Social distancing during Covid means no hugs. My personal space finally feels respected, by Christina Wyman
- Covid 'essential' workers were always important. Don't abandon them post-pandemic, by Kim Kelly
- Covid's remote parties allowed us to celebrate with all of our dearest, not just our nearest, by Rachel Pomerance Berl
- Even post-Covid, outdoor dining should keep going. Our staid restaurant culture has to evolve, by Deanna Fox
- I moved back home during the Covid pandemic. Here's what I gained by giving up my solo life, by Samhita Mukhopadhyay
- Covid deaths made us aware of our mortality. Here's why that's a good thing, by Maggie Mulqueen