“A motto favored by the ancients was solvitur ambulando: It is solved by walking.” – Kathleen Rooney in Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
I have been walking for 30 years. I wonder where I’d be now if this walking had been done in a straight line instead of in a route that always took me back to the beginning. Most always in the mornings.
I started as a young adult when I lived in the Cloverdale community of Montgomery. I walked the neighborhoods and enjoyed seeing the beautiful and interesting homes.
Keeping a schedule was essential. I had to walk, dress, get to work. I was disciplined – no hesitation or variation. At a turn on Thorn Place, I would pass a couple almost every morning. We exchanged a friendly greeting. Later I found out that they knew a friend of mine. When he made the connection, he told me, “They can always tell if they’re running late by where they run into you.”
You could have set a watch by me.
When I moved to east Montgomery, I tried my own neighborhood, but it wasn’t good for walking. One time a dog, a pit bull I think, was at his front door with his owner. The owner had stepped inside at the moment the dog spotted me and tore down the street barking ferociously.
I stopped and stood still as he ran nearer and nearer. With no protection except my instincts, I started calling him, “Here, girl, here, boy (I didn’t know which), come on, come on.” I clapped my hands in friendly encouragement. He stopped bearing down with ferocity. He bent over and started a wag that moved through his whole body. He could see that I wasn’t a threat to him; I was a friend.
By then his owner stepped back outside and called the dog home. It was a good lesson: greet your threats with friendliness. But I didn’t walk that way again.
Back then, they said it was safe to walk in the malls. You could be a “mall miler” in an enclosed, weather-protected, climate-controlled space. I gave it a try, still on a tight schedule to get to work by 8.
When I signed up, no one told me, “This may be a free place to walk, but it’s also a social gathering of retirees. They’re going to expect you to maintain a certain ‘friendliness’ standard. Believe me, they will try to score points on you if you fail to meet this standard.”
I soon found out that, as a much younger member, I had stepped into some mores and customs I did not expect. I figured out which lady was in charge of the social environment when I could see that she had purposefully doubled back to greet me head on: “My, you sure take you’re walking seriously, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” I said, surprised. I did sense, though, that this was like a line of dialogue in a film noir, and I suspected I was headed for trouble. This question represented a conversation she had been having with “the others.” I was about to fail a test.
One morning an older couple was walking along the length of the mall behind me as I turned down one of the alcoves. Instead of following me down the alcove, the husband motioned to his wife to walk straight so that they would be exactly where I was as I completed the alcove. His wife laughed as they joined me at the alcove’s end. Her laughter was the tell. They were making a point. They didn’t talk to me. They weren’t friendly. They just forced this situation where I would have to walk beside them through the rest of the mall. He had scored points, and now he and his wife had an enjoyable story to tell the others. I conceded defeat.
It’s been many, many years, and I’ve walked many, many miles in different places. Yet I am always saddened when I think of how that man made his point – showing off for his friends, creating discomfort for me, and hearing his wife’s laughter as he did. So unnecessary. I didn’t go back, though I did wonder if they ever felt regret.
We don’t always know what it’s taken someone to get where they are. We don’t always know what problems they’re trying to solve by walking. Kindness isn’t that hard. Besides, it’d be a shame if the people who met us today said to themselves, “In retrospect, the pit bull was nicer.”