Took a pleasant walk tonight, right after dinner. I needed a couple of miles in order to complete my daily 10k steps.
It was a perfect temperature for walking. The soft rain kept people inside, and made the evening dark and quiet. The slick streets reflected the glow of the street lamps. I remember seeing two students walk through the campus parking lot with umbrellas. Other than that, I had the streets to myself.
Sometimes when I walk, I listen to audio books. Sometimes I walk with my wife, or my dog. But I often walk alone and listen to the sounds of the city, or the woods, and give myself space to think, or not think. It’s good for my spirit, and better for my head, if I enjoy the time away from noise (especially my own noise).
I love walking this time of year. When it’s too cold, or too wet, I walk in the mall, or even Walmart. If it’s hot, I walk late at night, usually on dewey grass, after the earth has cooled. But April, for me, is far from cruel; it’s one of those perfect months.
Usually I’m quite eager to hit my 10k steps goal each day, but tonight I watched the latter half of Glee with my wife and daughter and didn’t feel particularly enthused about rising from the couch and finishing those steps in the rain. But it’s a compulsion, and I did it.
It was one of those days. I had worked a good bit, driven to Mooresville to drop off papers, driven to Kannapolis to pick up my car, and visited my mother twice, briefly, in the Alzheimer’s unit at Carillon. While there, I also had a nice visit with my neighbor. We’ve lived only a few feet away for 24 years, and she recently moved into the assisted living. Today’s conversation is probably the longest one we’ve ever had. I also had a few rather knotty conversations with siblings and health care folks.
As I walked tonight, I was thinking about my mother, whose dementia, for various reasons, has progressed quite rapidly these past couple of weeks.
The thought that came into my head was a book, and a memory.
It’s a common memory, one shared by millions and millions of people.
I remember, as a child, sitting beside my mother on the living room couch, listening to her read me a book — The Little Engine That Could — one of the most popular bedtime books ever read to children by their mothers.
It occurred to me that she set a good example of a little engine that could.
Me? I’ve had it easy and complained a lot. But she grew up poor in a Great Depression and World War. Her parents spoke with an accent. She had a somewhat ethnic name before ethnic was fashionable, and lived above a downtown store, before that was fashionable. She once told me that her parents never took a vacation.
She had some ability and fulfilled her potential. She was a star student and a star reporter. She raised a large family. Those who know her would confirm that she was a workaholic.
She’s a person who, when her mother had cancer, would take her to see her sisters in Latvia one last time. Visiting relatives in the Soviet Union in the 70’s required a bit of scrutiny — and passports and visas, which they did not have. And because she couldn’t wait weeks to get them, she would go to Washington D.C. and knock on doors and return in three days, with passports and visas.
She’s quite weak now, and has virtually lost her ability to speak. But she still moves around as much as she can, shuffling through the halls of Carillon, investigating every nook and cranny, speaking to others who are similarly afflicted with Alzheimer’s, offering to give those in wheelchairs a helpful push.
Last night, as I slowly walked the halls with her, watching her point at various pictures and rooms and books and papers and people, I couldn’t help but to admire her energy, her desire to keep moving in such a confined but seemingly vast space.
And tonight, as I walked down my street, noticing, across the vacant lot, in the distance, that home I grew up in, thinking about her and how she’s declined so quickly in recent weeks and days, I enjoyed a vivid memory of her reading me that book she and so many mothers read their children, and realized that she was and still is the one who really lives up to that creed: “I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can.”