"One day Samuel strained his back lifting a bale of hay, and it hurt his feelings more than his back, for he could not imagine a life in which Sam Hamilton was not privileged to lift a bale of hay." — John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Last Thursday I drove north to Utah to spend the weekend visiting family and friends and relaxing. When I woke up Friday morning at my aunt's house, my agenda consisted of two items: find a French bakery near downtown Salt Lake City my aunt told me about and spend some time reading outdoors. I left my aunt's house somewhat early and found a parking spot a block or two away from the bakery. With a book in hand I set out for the bakery. I ordered a pain au chocolat and a Mexican Coke. I crossed the street and walked a block and found myself sitting on a bench beneath a formidable shade tree in Washington Square at the foot of this building:
I ate my breakfast, drank my Coke, and walked to the Salt Lake City Public Library. But the weather was so nice and I couldn't stay indoors for long, so I made my way back to Washington Square, to another bench under another tree to read East of Eden.
An hour later I was on my feet again, on my way to find a used book store, Ken Sanders Rare Books, a few blocks away. They had the book I was looking for, Illusions by Richard Bach, as well as three Steinbeck early editions I didn't know I was looking for, America and Americans (a first edition), A Russian Journal (a first edition), and Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (not a first edition, but a nevertheless very cool early edition). Not wanting to carry the books around with me, I took them straight to my car. From there I took a scenic route back to the library (I had to use the bathroom) before meeting up with a friend.
During all this time my car didn't move an inch.
I woke up that Friday morning feeling somewhat anxious. About what, I don't know. I can't pinpoint the moment when that anxiety left me, but at some point during that morning I felt free of it. I wondered at that. And I thought about how different this day was from the day before, a day spent entirely within the confines of my car. I thought about how much ground I covered in my car — a good 700 miles — and then I think about how little I covered on foot — maybe a mile or two. Yet, that mile or two, that miniscule distance by comparison, was so much more satisfying — even therapeutic — than the great distance I traveled the day before.
I've always enjoyed walking and running for its own sake. But traveling by foot with a purpose or destination seems to calm me in a way few things can, even if — especially if? — the destination is something simple: a bakery, a library, a bathroom, a tree to read under, a meeting with a friend. A couple years ago I came across an article that cited a study claiming that people who live in walkable neighborhoods are happier, and after this weekend, I'm starting to see why that is.
I consider that quote above by John Steinbeck about Sam Hamilton — "[Sam] could not imagine a life in which Sam Hamilton was not privileged to lift a bale of hay." And I think about how I neglect my body and its purpose. Bodies are made to jump, dance, run, walk — to express love — to take you new and exciting places — to create — to taste, hear, smell, see, and touch — to live. So why don't I literally jump out of bed each morning?