That time the choir stayed late | Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | May 31, 2017

I think I could explain this. I think.

But it would get a little indulgent. I’d start tossing out subjects like Franz Mesmer, animal magnetism, “On The Road,” John Bunyan, and God. Also maybe “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” a little Tom Robbins, and diet soda. It would be typical me stuff.

So here’s the short version: I like to walk, particularly fairly long walking, an hour at least and preferably more. I’ve been doing it for 10 years now and haven’t shut up about it.

But then you have your yoga, or your cooking, or your bike rides. This is my thing. It unravels me, sometimes, string by string, until all that’s left is sweat, serenity, and some guilt-free ice cream.

I’m not alone, either. In the decade that I’ve been wandering my neighborhood on foot, I’ve always had company, sometimes the same people. And more than one person I know has taken up the habit over the years.

My brother is one. He made a short trip up here a couple of weeks ago, timing his arrival to coincide with most of us cautiously stepping outside, blinking and trying not to freak out from the yellow thing in the sky. Or just the sky, actually.

And when I wasn’t tempting melanoma or jumping up to mow my lawn every 15 minutes, my brother and I talked about our Fitbits.

Lots of people have wearable technology like this. I’ve just noticed it more when used by people who, like me, are ambling into senior citizenry and trying to do it upright.

We talked a little about how this seems to be a good fit (sorry) for aging bodies, a simple feedback loop that works. I roll my eyes at the rah-rah aspect, the enthusiastic digital motivation with messages and beeps, but it works and I should know it works. I’ve been doing this on my own for a while.

And given the right weather, the perfect day, and whatever alignment of the stars might be necessary, I sometimes imagined taking a very long walk.

I’m tempted to comment that many of my personal goals are awfully pedestrian. Good thing I resisted that temptation.

But sometimes we want to push boundaries as we age, do a little benchmark testing and see where we stand. Or sit. Or walk, as it turns out.

“Walking is the best possible exercise,” said one of America’s most famous walkers, Thomas Jefferson. “Habituate yourself to walk very far.” I’ve never been much of an athlete, never particularly fast or strong, but even as a kid I was patient. Given decent exercise tolerance and time, I figured I could walk as far as I wanted to.

And thanks to social media, I’m reminded that I did a strange thing two years ago, and now I’m reminded of why.

My wife works in Renton a couple of days a week, and usually she’s there until the early evening. Idly looking at a map one day, I suddenly came up with a 30-mile crazy idea. Maybe a quixotic goal, maybe a personal challenge, maybe a cry for help. I say we vote. But later.

So on May 27, 2015, I walked outside and kept walking for nearly 10 hours until I got to Renton. It was a free day, and spectacular weather. Family members tracked me. I’d occasionally stop to post a message, and friends across the country would occasionally read it, but it’s hard to make a long walk interesting to others. I don’t have to tell you that.

There was no trauma, no twisted ankle or heatstroke. The last six miles were mostly uphill and I definitely hit a wall, but rather than sit on a curb and dangle my feet into traffic, waiting pathetically for a ride, I opted to keep walking.

And when I finally reached my destination, as the sun was setting and my batteries were draining, a remarkable thing happened. Several members of the choir my wife directs, having stuck around after rehearsal, came out to the street to watch me straggle through my last block. As I made my final turn, they began to sing, “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.”

I could explain how pushing back against time and age is a worthwhile experience. I think I could explain how such a simple thing as putting one foot in front of the other becomes less simple and occasionally profound.

Or I could explain that animal magnetism does not mean what you think it means.

But if there’s a take-away from this dumb idea I once had, it’s what I only recognize now, two years after the fact: We need to do hard things, or at least I do. Just to remind myself that I know how, that I’ve done them before, and that someday, and I suspect on many days, I’ll need to be reminded.

Those choir members who stuck around were all women, all older than I am, all inspiring me constantly with their youthfulness and energy. They came out at dusk, lining up behind me as I trudged along, still singing. Somebody took a picture; even I was smiling.

There are always going to be hard things. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to practice endurance, and a long walk can surprise you with benefits.

And sometimes, if you walk far enough, you might actually get a parade.

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