Why Did the Boy Cross the Road?

I walk a lot. When my neighbors see me on the road they recognize me and my dog. I’m a hard guy to miss. I’ve been trotting these roads for a few decades. People usually honk, or wave, or hurl steel objects out the windows.

I have been walking a lot in the past four months of quarantines since there isn’t much else to do besides eat.

My favorite time of day for walking has always been night. You sweat less. You can think more clearly. And you have no idea how immense the night sky is until you try to take the whole thing in at once.

I started this walking business after my father died. I was a chubby boy, and I was only getting chubbier. Lots of people feed you when someone in your family dies. And they just never quit. You can gain a lot of weight going to funerals.

Pretty soon I was eating homemade biscuits like they were gummy bears. And don’t get me started on Mounds. Sweet God. There are support groups for people who like Mounds the way I did.

Above all, I was a big fan of cheese. Cheese is a lot more magical than some give it credit. There are thousands of different kinds, not just the varieties you see in the supermarket. People in European countries, for instance, name their children after cheese. Lutherans in Wisconsin, I understand, actually thank God for cheese as part of the Lord’s Prayer.

Anyway, when I was a boy, the longest duration I had ever walked was nine minutes. I know this because right before my father died I was in P.E. class and the teacher told us to walk around the gymnasium so he could time us.

I don’t know why he had us do this. Physical education class was supposed to be about dodgeball, climbing ropes, and snapping towels in the locker room hard enough to draw blood.

But there we were, walking the wood-floored gym like a bunch of inmates in the exercise yard. After nine minutes, I was so winded that my chubby little ribs hurt and all I wanted was a Mounds.

Then my father died. I got so depressed that I didn’t think I would make it. Looking back, I think I was really depressed. Maybe the clinical kind. When I’d wake up I couldn’t wait until night arrived so I could go back to sleep.

Then, one night—and I can’t explain why—I just went outside and started walking. I laced up my ratty Chuck Taylors and went.

It was black outside, and the moon was out. I think my mother was a little concerned since we lived on a secluded gravel road. But the stars were above me, and I’ve always had a thing for stars.

That night, I was gone for what seemed like a hundred years until sweat was pouring down my back and I couldn’t breathe. When I got back home the clock said I’d been gone almost five minutes.

I was a little embarrassed. Five minutes? I was breathing like Darth Vader.

So the next night, I went out again. This time, I brought a wristwatch. I timed myself. I was going to walk for nine minutes or die trying. I did 12 minutes. And I don’t recall ever being so proud.

So that’s how I started walking. I walked in the evenings to watch the sky. To watch seasons change. To breathe. To think. Who knows why Young Me walked so much? I can’t figure Young Me out sometimes.

It took a few years to build my distance up from minutes to miles. Pretty soon, I was going three miles almost every evening. Everyone was asking if I’d been losing weight, and whether I had a terminal illness. Old women appeared from the doorways and tried to feed me.

I went from being a husky kid to a size small. I wish I could tell you that I felt like a rockstar, being slim and lanky, but I still just felt like me.

Even so, three miles was a long way, and I did it every single evening, and that made me a little proud.

Then I started running some. I sent in a few bucks for a subscription to “Runner’s World.” I spent my inheritance ordering one pair of shoes.

And whenever I took to the road, I would get intoxicated simply by thinking about stuff. “Why am I here?” “Who will I marry one day?” “Why is there braille on the drive-up ATM?”

Today, I still walk and run. I go through a lot of cheap shoes because I wear them out. I take my dog with me and we have great conversations. My dog never looks at me when I speak, she is too busy looking for something new and adventurous to pee on.

Sometimes, late at night, I think about that chubby kid who had no clue what was happening in a terrifying world. Mostly, he was just afraid. And walking made him feel less scared.

I haven’t changed much. I still have Chuck Taylors in my closet. And I still wonder about this world sometimes. I still get lost in large, immense skies that display the light of an entire solar system.

And I am still reminded that whatever is worrying me will pass in time. And I’m reminded that no matter how godawful this life gets, the quickest way through hell is simply to start walking.

Now I’m going to eat a Mounds.

19 comments

  1. Lou - June 30, 2020 6:47 am

    When my husband died I started walking. My dog Shane and I walked mostly at night. I was never afraid because Shane is 80# and very protective. Since my husband passed nearly 4 years ago, I have lost 60+ pounds. I understand.

    Reply
  2. Steve Winfield [Lifer] - June 30, 2020 7:16 am

    Good comment Lou.
    The skeeters are so bad here that walking at night is a death wish. Once around the block & you’d need a transfusion. I have every kind of anti-itch stuff made. 7 or 8 Deep Woods skeeter repellents too. They help when you remember to use them BEFORE you go outside.
    I do try to take Oscar out for a bit daily but definitely before dark. I think he & I both need a bit of head clearing every day. He’s quite tough on all the fenced in dogs. He gains 50 pounds when there’s chain link between them. Gets all bowed up kicking dirt & grass behind him. Sometimes the fenced dogs even stand up. They usually just continue sleeping.
    If you have any secret weapons for the skeeters I’d love to hear about them.
    Y’all stay safe. Love you all.
    Steve & Oscar.

    Reply
  3. Lisa - June 30, 2020 8:46 am

    Walking is very therapeutic for me, too, as are Mounds. Thank you for a smile this morning.

    Reply
  4. Lori Shepard - June 30, 2020 10:14 am

    I have also wondered WHY is there Braille on the drive up ATM?? Good to know someone else notices the crazy.
    Lori Shepard

    Reply
  5. Jan - June 30, 2020 11:41 am

    You pose some interesting questions, Sean. Walking and the great outdoors are a great combination. I usually do my walking early in the morning but I do love the stars at night so I might give that a try!

    Reply
  6. Cathi Russell - June 30, 2020 1:34 pm

    Walking, no matter when or where, is totally therapeutic. I used to walk early mornings & nights but my neighborhood has gotten less safe in the last few years so I don’t venture out as often. Before that it was blissful!

    Reply
  7. Mary - June 30, 2020 1:35 pm

    I feel like you could be my brother. Almost everything you write touches my heart. I too love the night sky and Mounds. The simple things are the best.

    Reply
  8. Teresa Tindle - June 30, 2020 1:41 pm

    Sean, you hit the nail on the head. I love to walk. But I can’t anymore. So now I sit on my deck and enjoy and marvel at the stars. And I eat my favorite candy bar. My mounds. It’s my very favorite. It was my moms favorite. I love the dark. The stars are good for your soul. I didn’t know we had mounds in common. I guess great minds think alike. Now it’s dark and my deck is calling and my mounds. Enjoy yours.

    Reply
  9. pmstraughan - June 30, 2020 2:19 pm

    My wife left her 3 year journey with ovarian cancer December, 2 days after Christmas. The best and roughest Christmas we ever had. So again you brought things to mind for this former “fat kid” who as a teenager would jog at night when the streets would be lighted sometimes by moon and starlight. Jog until…. and somehow find the energy to turn towards home. Well home is two dogs/two cats and somewhat really different in this newly changing world. Maybe I’ll take up jogging or walking.
    Thank you again. Keep writing. Your work is a real joyful blessing

    Reply
  10. Helen De Prima - June 30, 2020 2:36 pm

    I hate gyms, but I love to walk, preferably on natural surfaces. When the snow went out early this year in southern NH, I started building my own private hiking trail in a five-acre wooded patch nearby. I bushwhacked a little more each day, avoiding big rocks, skirting downed trees too large for me to shift, moving the smaller logs, raking a two-foot width to avoid spring-hungry ticks lurking in last fall’s leaves. A round-trip from my back door measures 1.67 miles on my Fitbit, meandering uphill and down through old-growth pines and an overgrown orchard. My tiny forest is home to foxes, possums, skunks, deer, and possibly the coyote I’ve seen trotting through several times. In these times, my trail goes a long way toward keeping me sane; I try to walk it at least twice a day. I’m 76.

    Reply
  11. Ala Red Clay Girl - June 30, 2020 2:55 pm

    Being outside makes me feel closer to God. I can think clearer and my worries seem to diminish somewhat. I enjoy my walk or run at sunrise because I like to see where I’m going; I’ve seen snakes on my road! Almond Joys are also good when you can’t find a Mounds.

    Reply
  12. Deborah (Debbie) Gillespie - June 30, 2020 2:56 pm

    Sean, I’m sure you are familiar with the famous lines from Sarah Williams’ poem “The Old Astronomer To His Pupil” –

    ‘Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
    I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.’

    Today’s post made me think of that beautiful poem. I hope you look it up and read it (again if you’ve read it before).

    Also there is a song I know you will like that includes those tender lines. “I Have Loved The Stars Too Fondly” by Heather Sorenson and I’m including the YouTube link . . . https://youtu.be/5rW5Ag7roWI

    Reply
  13. Robert M Brenner - June 30, 2020 3:40 pm

    Great commentary on life! I’m sure walking with “Man’s Best Friend” helps. My dog thinks I’m the best thing since sliced bread 🍞!

    Reply
  14. Linda Moon - June 30, 2020 4:46 pm

    My guy and I walk a lot. It’s helped with heart disease and other godawful challenges, including this current quarantine. I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV, so with that disclaimer I’ll quote Viktor Frankl: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” That non-clinical knowledge, along with DARK Chocolate and walking make me feel better and braver. Your last four paragraphs gave me courage for today, Sean, except for the omission of DARK Chocolate with at least 70% cacao!

    Reply
  15. Teresa - June 30, 2020 6:35 pm

    I understand your love for stars, and for me it’s all things celestial. The full moon still give me chills.

    And btw, if you like extra sharp cheddar and let it get room temperature before eating it, it will change your life!

    Reply
  16. Christina - June 30, 2020 8:27 pm

    One step at a time, Sean

    Reply
  17. Becky Souders - June 30, 2020 10:23 pm

    Okay… great column, Sean. But when I picked up my groceries today, I had to have a Mounds.

    Reply
  18. Lou - June 30, 2020 10:27 pm

    I believe it is for when a blind person is driven to the bank and sits in the back seat they can handle their own transaction. Also, some ATMs are in walk up facilities.

    Reply
  19. Gretchen Hitchcock - July 1, 2020 4:20 pm

    I just love your columns. They are the highlight of my day. My husband and I love the night sky too and having retired to rural Georgia can see so much. We’re looking forward to meeting you in person when we’re all able to be out and mingling with others.

    Reply

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