One Foot in Front of the Other
My mother was a walker. She walked up the stairs instead of hopping on the escalator. She walked around the house all day doing her chores. And every single afternoon around 4, she’d walk around our neighborhood, making a brisk four rounds around the big loop where my crush lived. It’s how she kept her figure svelte, stayed up-to-date on neighborhood happenings, and cleared her head.
My Finn is also a walker.
A few days ago, we sat in a dimly lit corner booth at a cozy restaurant in Philadelphia, The Dandelion. He says it’s the only pub-inspired restaurant in Philly that actually serves all the classic British food he loves. (He grew up in Leeds, ICYMI.) He was on his second beer and two-third’s the way through his bangers and mash when I felt inspired to ask him where fitness and decent nutrition feature in his lifestyle. “How do you stay fit?” The question was diplomatically posed as I watched him cut off another piece of sausage and move it around in the lake of gravy in front of him. “I walk,” was his easy reply. At first, I struggled to see it.
Finn is a best friend. I have a Ride or Die, you guys, and he’s it.
We’ve done all the important, emotionally-tolling things together. He has let me soak his plaid button-down with my tears before I blew my nose on it. (It’s okay, he’s Finn, so he already knows I’m awkward.) I put together various gourmet sandwiches for him to take on his road trip. He sucker punched my abusive ex in the nose when he ran into him in a bar near Harvard and declared, “I’d do it again!” as I lectured him on the values of pacifism. We watched two entire seasons of Downton Abbey in a single, cloudy Saturday before stumbling out of the Packard Motorcar Building in a BBC-induced stupor in order to find tacos. I have paid his electric bill because he made it rain on Girl Scout Cookies the week before. (Don’t ask. Something about a triggered childhood memory.)
We have also helped each other through dozens of other things that are too weighty and personal to be spoken of here. Yet, in spite of all of the things we’ve shared and time we’ve spent in one another’s company, I have yet to glean that he was also a walker.
I knew he walked to get from Point A to Point B. I know he lugs his guitar to the Barbary for gigs and walks down the stairs into the subway and then up the stairs at Race-Vine when we’re hanging out. I know he walks to work (unless it’s raining). But I didn’t know he was a walker, someone who pounds feet against pavement to clear his head and honor the temple his soul is housed in and go on his own little pilgrimage every morning. Yet that’s what he does. “I walk because I’m working through some stuff,” he said.
And “working through some stuff” is how my 2017 is starting out.
My 2016 was funny, in the way slapstick is funny. I got a new degree. Fell in love. Got my heart broken. Thought I might be falling in love. Promptly broke that heart. Struggled with my health among other things, only to find it all going to hell on December 30th. The crisis was averted on December 31st. (By Finn. Like I said, Ride or Die, Baby. Ride. Or. Die.)
On January 1, I sat at my dining room table looking out over Philadelphia and thought to myself, “Life is a tough crowd.” There’s a constant aimlessness surrounding me. The sensation is akin to floating in the middle of the ocean and I was desperate for something to ground me, like blood flow and fresh air and endless stretches of pavement and earth.
“I need to walk.” The thought grabbed hold as soon as it entered.
I couldn’t shake it off. My feet hit the cold carpet and I tugged on a thick coat, shoved my feet into sneakers and went out. The city was cloaked in an indigo twilight and my breath appeared in the air in front of me as I walked furiously down Broad Street. Every day since then, I’ve laced up and pounded the pavement.
I’m walking to get away, at least on some level. I recently saw a video on my friend’s Facebook wall asking runners what they’re running away from. Their responses were numerous and varied, “I’m running away from bad health. From my past. From anxiety.” There were so many things behind them that they flee by lacing up and I wondered if perhaps I should start walking furiously away from the same things.
Lately, I’ve been dwelling a lot on the idea of a pilgrimage.
Nikita keeps telling me about this book, Eat Pray Love, that was made into a film starring Julia Roberts. “You need to read it NOW.” A copy’s on its way. I read stories of pilgrimages, these religious journeys that people take before returning to Real Life completely changed. As they tell their stories, my soul craves the experiences they describe; something about the whole thing resonates.
If I were to take a pilgrimage, where would I go? This is a question I’ve been searching for the answer to. A few months ago, I told my blue bonnet-eyed beauty, Emma, that I was saving up to visit her in Ireland so we could finally meet. “We keep on reminiscing about finally meeting; to just make eye-contact IRL and awkward-laugh about it, but that day will never come if we just talk about it as this abstract possibility,” I’d said to her over Facebook messenger, “So I’ve started an Ireland Account where I put money aside every month.” Happy Dance emojis burst onto the chat window while I looked forward to a One Day when I’d tumble into her warmth and sit across from her while drinking Guinness and looking up the walking directions to James Joyce’s house.
There’s a part of my soul that’s always been called to that part of the globe for some reason. Back in October, I wrote a piece for my friend Jason’s publication Altarwork where I told an Almost Love Story about a British expat I got involved with. We dated passionately for a month until he suddenly had to move back to England. (Yes yes, I know, it was quite tragic.)
As he was preparing to leave, there was a stretch of time when I considered moving there to be with him. When the leaves in the city were turning crisp and amber, I sat cross-legged in Rittenhouse Park and wrote, “I wanted to go to England. I wanted to go because I wanted to be wherever he was — wherever we could write songs and take long walks and sleep with our limbs tangled together, never again being pulled apart.”
It was reckless and insane, but it was the complete, unvarnished truth. This land across the pond — everything I’d ever heard about it — became entangled with the man in question; they became one and the same. When I first became involved with him, my friend Nick laughed and posed a question I’d already been mulling over, “Is the passion driven by your soul’s residence on those Celtic islands?”
I haven’t arrived at the answer yet, but it didn’t seem like a stretch; when I was twelve and met Emma online on a virtual reality game, Habbo Hotel, my heart skipped a beat as soon as she told me she lived in Ireland. “Is it as green as in the photos?” I asked her the question almost instantly. In my mind’s eye, I saw rolling hills draped in endless carpets of exquisite, shimmering grass. “No, it’s greener,” she replied. She could have told me that they were covered in emeralds and stained-glass and I’d have believed her.
A few days ago, I typed wild words into Google search, “How many miles is it to Ireland?” It depended on where the trek would start. I eventually settled on a place in the Northeast from which I could follow an upward-diagonal path to Dublin, the capital.
The number sounded endless and insurmountable. I follow obsessive marathoners on Instagram. For them, running is like breathing, something they need to do in order to continue to live; it’s almost as if every pound on the pavement is what pulses the blood through their veins. At the end of the year, some of them posted their total mileages for 2016. If they’d have been trying to run to Dublin, they were each about a hundred miles short. I felt instantly discouraged and the spark of inspiration started to dim.
I’ve recently created a running habit where I set the alarm for 5 am and every other day, I pound the Philly pavement before the sun rises. (On the days I don’t, I do a barre DVD.) If this makes me sound like I’m a super fit runner chick who’s flying up and down the Rocky Steps at the Art Museum before posting to Instagram being all like “#warmup,” you’re wrong. You’re so very incredibly wrong.
Two years ago, I ran my first 5k, Strides for Stroke, with my friend Lisa. I came in last. A 70-year old passed me and I thought to myself, “There goes the rest of my dignity” as I watched her go by. It was very embarrassing but Lisa cheered and snapped photos of me crossing the finish line like I was Usain Bolt.
Yesterday, I ran five miles before work. I’m very proud of this because even though I did it on a 15 mins/mi pace which is about the rate at which newborn tortoises stampede their way through chunky peanut butter and I’m nowhere near marathoner babe, look at how far I’ve come, Loves. Look how far I’ve come. Look at the progress I’ve made with my health and my fitness. I’m so proud of myself.
Yet, even though I am so much further than I was before, I couldn’t help but think that it wasn’t enough. Could I walk/run/bike/hike to Ireland? Did I have it in me to wake up every morning and pound 3,202 miles of pavement while listening to Gregorian chants and Bethel Music or maybe no music, just stillness and urban morning sounds filled to the brim with silent, hopeful prayers? I wondered if, perhaps, it was too difficult. “I’m not sure I can do it,” I thought. “You can,” the voice inside of my soul replied back, roaring forth, “Easy things are not the things that change you. You can. You can and you will and you must.”
It’s time that I’ve taken a pilgrimage of my own and I know from all the stories that they’re best taken on foot, pounding pavement in hopes that my life will be rebuilt with each step serving as a newly laid brick. Maybe things feel dead and wilted and lifeless because I need to get soil under my nails, kneel down in the dirt, and get to work, planting and growing all the things I want to blossom into my reality.
Maybe I need to start today and maybe it’ll take 3,202 miles to get it done.
It’s official. I’m walking across the Atlantic to Dublin.
Nina Singhapakdi is a freelance writer, art historian, social justice advocate, and semi-professional green juice drinker whose work has appeared on Middle Places, Venn Magazine, A Lovely Calling, ALTARWORK, and more. She lives in a renovated antique car showroom in Philadelphia where she bakes organic pies, thinks about red lipstick, and creates. She’s also in the midst of writing her first novel. You can find her in small coffee shops and on her website, ninasinghapakdi.com.