By Stefanie Wass
Exercise is good for your mind, body, and soul.
~Susie Michelle Cortright
"Want to take our walk?" My husband, home from work for his lunch break, hastily clears our sandwich plates and heads toward the door.
"Sure," I say, getting up to find my sneakers. "Bring the keys and your cell phone."
Just like that, we're off -- out the garage door, walking side-by-side down the cul-de-sac. My determined, brisk strides, made prettier by my lace-adorned shoes, are no match for my husband's fast-stepping Sperry Top-Siders. We must make quite the sight, I think, looking over at my beloved, clad in his usual "business casual" attire: blue Dockers, polo shirt, and boat shoes. I pull my T-shirt down over my jeans, hoping to conceal a missing button. Sure hope we don't run into anyone we know.
A late September breeze pushes us forward, past crimson-tipped maples and yellow-leafed oaks. "Look at those gorgeous mums," I say, pointing to a home already costumed for fall. "And they have pumpkins!"
"It's a little early yet," my husband says, wisely diverting my envy. "I'll plant some flowers this weekend."
Sidestepping a lifeless white-bellied frog, we forge ahead, holding hands like teenagers. We walk a mile, past rows of colonials and stately brick Georgians. As we pass the neighborhood piano teacher's house, my worries spill out unexpectedly, like air from a popped balloon.
"Emily hasn't been practicing the piano too well," I say, wondering aloud about my parenting skills. "I just don't know if I should be sitting down next to her on the bench or letting her learn the notes on her own."
"You're doing the right thing," my husband assures me, squeezing my hand as we round another cul-de-sac. "Just be there if she needs you."
"And what about Julia?" I continue, my worries now wrapped around our younger daughter. "She burst into tears at the mere mention of choir practice."
My spouse shrugs his shoulders. "She'll end up just fine in the end -- choir or no choir. Maybe she should take a break this year."
Although I'm skeptical, I feel better. The rhythmic sound of our shoes striking concrete offers steady assurance. Maybe I am on the right course. The hand in mine tells me what I already know: I have a true partner, in exercise and in life. The guy in the funny looking boat shoes will always be by my side, offering support and encouragement.
"Watch out," my husband warns as we approach a growling German Shepherd. "That thing's a beast!"
"At least there aren't any snakes today," I answer, remembering the slithering garter that surprised me by sunning himself on the sidewalk. That day, I nearly hung up my walking shoes for good.
As we circle the neighborhood, I marvel at the woodland creatures making their home in our suburban subdivision: a fluttering Monarch, a creepy, oversized cricket, a family of black squirrels. A rustling in the trees causes me to pause. A white spotted fawn looks up from his lunch of shrub leaves, eyeing us with suspicion. We are a startling sight, I suppose -- this odd couple holding hands like newlyweds and circling the neighborhood each day at noon.
Despite the stares from our forest friends (and a few neighbors, waving wildly as they drive by in sports cars and SUVs), we continue to walk. A maple tree sporting the colors of fall -- yellow, burnt orange and red -- seems to smile upon our exercise efforts.
"Walking is really the best thing," my doctor advised at a recent physical. His eyebrows furrowed with concern for my family tree, its branches brittle with osteoporosis. "Just take a walk every day," he said. "It'll strengthen your bones."
With each measured step, I think about my mother, her once-stately 5'9" frame now a fractured 5'4". I hear echoes of my aunt's confession: "The last time I was at your house, my back hurt so badly I couldn't even find a comfortable chair."
And so, we walk -- past the lake, honking geese, and yellow-tipped oaks. At the three-mile mark, I wipe my forehead, flushed yet energized from the journey.
"Want to do one more loop?" My husband looks my way, reluctant to return to his office and work routine. Perhaps walking makes him feel like I do -- stronger somehow, connected down to our very bones. I wonder if we will walk forever, holding each other up through life's bumpy paths.
"Sure," I say, reaching for his hand. Crunching through the leaves, we walk side-by-side down the wooded road: a path that, for me, has made all the difference.