Solvitur ambulando. It is solved by walking.
Balancing on my right leg, I tore the sock off and searched feverishly. Was it a thorn? A burr? Something scratched between toes 3 & 4. I shook the shoe and felt around the sock. Nothing. Two miles from home, the only option meant sliding it back on and continuing.
Obviously, I made it home. Slower and with more thoughtful steps, but no worse for wear.
When Covid arrived in March 2020, I began walking a few miles every day. I’ve tread carefully on ice, leaned into wind, squinted against snow and wiped perspiration from my neck. My daily distance varies. Despite repetition, I’ve realized St. Augustine’s advice, solvitur ambulando, is a good prescription for these turbulent times. Much has, in fact, been solved by walking. I’ve enjoyed the solitude and the surprises.
As the miles pass, my mood lifts. Rhythmic steps quiet my mind. Parades of worries pause. I observe more, I appreciate more, and on some lucky days, I even find solutions to problems I’ve (temporarily) walked away from. It seems the more my body moves, the slower my life tempo becomes.
A slower life tempo was needed more than I realized.
While walking, I’ve met angry dogs and friendly humans and friendly dogs and angry humans. I’ve watched homes constructed. I’ve witnessed families and gardens growing, noticed the soft, subtle signs of changing seasons and recognized more fully the unfolding of life around me.
The repetition of daily walking made me aware of how much I’ve overlooked while hurtling though life. Turn’s out, life isn’t an autobahn. Who knew!?
During one walk several weeks ago, an older woman waved me over. We’ve often chatted as I’ve walked by. While my personal pandemic therapy is walking every day, hers seems to be talking to people as they pass. That day she was watering freshly-planted tomato plants.
“This is a pain in my ass,” she said, pulling the lime green hose with a grunt. I said nothing. (How does one answer that?!)
“You know I grew these tomatoes from seed,” she continued. I expressed admiration. She waved it away with another grunt.
“My son gave me a kit with the lights and whatever for Christmas. God almighty, the work involved in these damn things!” She shook her head, rolling her eyes heavenward. Clearly this was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard of…growing plants from seed.
“I asked for a gift card to buy tomato plants. Instead, he gets me seeds and a damn ‘grow’ thing. I guess he thought he should keep me busy.”
The hose hissed as she adjusted the sprayer.
“All it really means is I spent three more months growing tomatoes than I normally would!”
She shook her head in disgust. I chuckled at her directness. Thankfully, she joined me and we laughed together. But I’m betting the whole grow kit will be in her next garage sale.
Walking away, I thought of how easy it is to complicate things. All she wanted was to buy a few tomato plants. Her son thought she needed something more. To her, those months and equipment were a waste of time and energy. Or in her words, a pain in her ass.
Walking away, I thought of the times I’ve made the same mistake. Even if the intentions were good, how often have I believed I knew what would make someone else happy? Decided my idea was their right answer.
How often have any of us made something simple complicated?
It reminded me of a story my father told years ago about his father, my Grandpa Billy. He died weeks after I was born, so I know him through stories only. Grandpa Billy was a gardener. He loved to grow tomato plants from seed. During the cold Minnesota Spring, he’d line their south-facing window sills with cups and cans and containers of tomato seedlings. As a kid, this embarrassed my father to no end. He grew especially annoyed at how his father would then give the plants away once they grew large enough. Year after year, Grandpa Billy handed over tomato plants to every relative, neighbor or friend who came to the door, all free of charge.
My father couldn’t understand this. Why wouldn’t he charge anyone? For months he watched him baby the seedlings! Surely even a small fee would offset the costs and time involved! But Grandpa Billy continued to give them free of charge to anyone who asked.
I recall how my Dad’s eyes welled and his voice cracked when he shared how long it took him to finally understand it. For Grandpa Billy, this wasn’t about money or recognition or hubris; he simply loved growing tomato plants.
He started seedlings and tended each little plant because it excited him to watch them grow. The fact that others received a free, garden-ready plant was strictly a by-product of his love of doing it.
That’s it. Nothing more. Growing them from seed provided joy; a simple, pure joy.
So, I must ask you. What brings you simple joy? Not the “should” kind or the results kind or the complicated kind…but the pure and simple kind?
These past 18 months I’ve learned the simple joy of daily walks. It’s slowed me down and kept me sane. This uncomplicated practice has helped me sort through complicated stuff.
Because sometimes, on some days, walking shakes a little something loose in my proverbial shoes, too. Something that’s been hiding; scratching at the steps of this life journey. Provoking me enough to balance on one foot, yank off a shoe and investigate what’s going on.
For me, Solvitur ambulando rings true. It is solved by walking.
What’s your simple joy? What practices help you shake some of the sand from your shoes?
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