Well Intended: A nagging, unrealized, urge to just be still
Published 6:13 am, Sunday, May 24, 2015
I am not great at relaxation. While I can read, write or work for hours, the idea of spending a day relaxing at a spa makes me antsy. I don't know how to meditate. A trip to the salon to get my hair trimmed requires not only mandatory stillness, but also self-consciously staring at myself in the mirror for an hour. I don't even really enjoy watching movies in the theater.
I would rather swim than sunbathe and choose to walk over picnicking. I am trying to get better at settling down and being still. But it's not my strength. I realize that other people enjoy downtime. They like to watch television and sunsets. I am trying to get better at accommodating and appreciating other people's desire for stillness.
Last week, I invited a friend to go on a hike with me. I promised him a nice walk in the woods as we leashed the dog and laced up our sneakers at the Trout Brook Valley Preserve parking lot. We left the water bottles in the car, consulted a map and began our journey to the orchard at the top of the hill.
He walked more slowly than I did and I circled back a few times to accommodate his pace. I know that I should have walked beside him and talked as we ambled together along the trail. That would have been the more sociable approach. But as the path stretched out before me, I felt compelled to climb quickly. I wanted to reach the destination and I found myself struggling to slow down.
We found a bench at the top of the hill and sat together in the afternoon sun while the dog tangled her leash about our feet. A man and a woman approached. They were holding hands and were led by a large red dog. And as they neared, I could see that the man had an infant strapped to his chest in a navy blue baby carrier. The child was little, her baby feet barely dangled beneath the leg holes in the carrier. Her little pajamas looked new.
"This is Megan," the father said, "She is 5 weeks old." I wished them a happy walk and tried to remember what it was like to be the parent of a newborn and how exhausting and wonderful it was and how every single thing in the world changed when I became responsible for another person. Five weeks old. Megan and her parents walked to the bottom of the orchard where the blueberry bushes had just been pruned.
We untangled the dog and her leash from our ankles and began our descent, choosing to take a slightly different route back. It wasn't more than 10 minutes when I heard baby Megan and her parents behind us. "They're coming!" I said. "Let's hurry!" I knew it was crazy as I was saying it. Hiking isn't a race. But suddenly, I felt competitive. Walking at a measured pace would no longer suffice. I wanted to move!
It's perfectly fine to walk slowly on a spring afternoon hike through the woods. My poor friend stubbornly slowed down, he refused to quicken his pace to accommodate my nonsense and within moments we stepped aside on the trail to let baby Megan and her parents pass. They thanked us and we waved one more time, the dogs pulled at their leashes as we said goodbye. For the rest of the hike, we walked deliberately and mostly in silence. We watched our footing as not to stumble on the roots and rocks. We pointed out trail markers and mushrooms. I tried to enjoy myself again and to not mention or dwell on the shame of losing to a 5-week-old and her family.
I'll work on slowing down and learning to be still. Certainly, it would make me a better friend and more pleasant hiking companion.
Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.