Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Second Mile Is Easier

I like to cheat on things.  Maybe cheat isn't the right word and maybe like isn't the right word either.  What I have in mind is doing things half-assed, washing my hands, doing a workout on the elliptical, pouring the vermouth into the martini glass, that sort of stuff.  The thing gets done but a pro would have done it better, not necessarily out of higher skill but surely out of more concern for doing it well, so demanding proper technique in the process.  Fundamentally, I'm a schlemiel.  The cheating on things is the schlemiel rising to the surface.  Most of the time the output is good enough.  Once in a while I find the soup spilled onto my lap.

Yesterday was a non-teaching day for me, so I planned to go for a walk.  It was a little cool in the morning so I waited till near noon to set out.  The routine should include stretching exercises first, just a few minutes of those to limber up and get the blood flowing.  Recently I've passed on the stretching and just started on the walk, with no ill effect from the shirking till yesterday.  But it was still a bit cool when I set out so the stretching was more important than it had been.  We are so much smarter in hindsight and would be so much better behaved if we always had the wisdom of hindsight to guide us.

It's about a half mile from my house till I cross Windsor at the corner where a branch of Busey Bank is.  A normal person taking my route would cross the street twice at that corner, once headed North toward Kirby, the other headed east just to get on the side of Duncan that has a sidewalk for the full extent between Windsor and Kirby.  On the west side of Duncan, the sidewalk ends just after the bank.  My preferred route has me crossing Duncan there, waiting for traffic to clear, once in a while running a few steps to beat the car because traffic hasn't cleared but I was too impatient to wait any longer.  This is jay walking, but I actually feel safer doing it than I feel when crossing at the corner, where cars have a tendency to jump the light.   On my return I avoid the corner entirely and cross Windsor further down to the west, near the Espresso Royale, another bout of jay walking done for pretty much the same reason.

Everything is going okay after I've crossed Duncan and head north to Kirby, but things sour by the next block or so.  The top of my left foot starts to hurt and as I continue walking the pain intensifies.  I start to ask myself whether I should turn back, lest I get into real trouble, severe enough pain that I can't make it home.  Or is this the sort of pain that will go away when I've warmed up sufficiently?  This is one of the big mysteries of the universe for the arthritic person of my age.  The old pains in the usual locations are familiar bedfellows.  An armistice has been made between them and me.  We each can proceed about our business.  A new pain in some other spot is an entirely different animal.  Is it just passing through or is it making a bid to join the club of regulars?

Mentally the trick, one I understand but haven't yet mastered, is to get the mind focused on something entirely different for a while, so lost in thought that the pain goes unnoticed.  Let that persist for a while, a minute or two, maybe longer.  Then when self-awareness returns see if the pain is still there.  By the time I find myself reaching the soybean field on the west side of Duncan, signifying a mile from my starting point, the pain in the foot appears to have vanished.  I promise to myself that I will do the stretching exercises the next time I take a walk, but I've made those sort of promises before, many times.

This story is not about a reformed schlemiel who is now on the straight and narrow.  It's about what the mind grabs onto when pain is no longer a distraction.  Yesterday, that was easy.  The object of attention was color, magnificent hues from the grass, the trees, and the sky.  A confluence of factors created this beauty.  It was dry and crisp outside so there was a kind of clarity outdoors that is rare for this area.  This explains the blueness of the sky.  We've had an unusual amount of rain this summer and it's continued into the fall.  Most of the trees have held onto their leaves as a result.  Many of those trees had an interesting color pattern, with green leaves lower down and dark red leaves near the top.  This transition between the green and red is something I don't remember seeing before.  A photographer or a painter should capture it before all the leaves have dropped from the trees.  The grass too seemed especially green, particularly those lawns that hadn't recently been mowed, as the cuttings don't pick up the moisture in the same way. 

I was wearing sunglasses, because it was very bright outside.  I asked myself whether those changed the colors and contributed to the intensity of the effect.  Perhaps they did.  When beauty springs upon us, sometimes good fortune smiles too.  The look created is something you'd want to bottle.  The best I can do is to write about it a little.

The forecast today is for cloudy in the morning and rain in the afternoon.  And cloudy or rainy is in the forecast for the next several days to follow.  But in about a week hence, weather conditions are supposed to return to the way it was yesterday.  If that forecast holds I encourage everyone to go for a good long walk on that sunny day.  Know that it gets better as you keep walking.  And hope that it will provide a good picture for your mind as we head towards colder weather. 

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