A walk in the park: Can it mend the heart?

9 mins read

Energy and persistence conquer all things. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Writers love synchronicity.

We love it when we’re thinking of an article or a blog – how we’re going to approach it, what the title will be, what kind of support info will show up – and, out of the blue, something wonderful comes into view. That happened to me on a sunny, beautiful day in July.

I’d been moping about my friend Clayton Klein, the ‘Walking Man.’ A business man and author, Clayton was known by we Michiganders for his September walks from 2005-2009 downstate from Paradise in the Upper Peninsula to Hell in our Livingston neighborhood, and on to the Ohio border.

Walking alone in the park, hoping to mend this heart...
Walking alone in the park, hoping to mend this heart…

He began these epic walks in memory of his wife, Marjorie, to benefit Michigan’s hospice programs. He also walked for the simple pleasure of walking, and to celebrate the health effects of walking on a regular basis.

Some of his fans enjoyed walking with him at the beautiful one-mile track in Fowlerville, which circles the grounds of the community park. In the summertime, we’d plan a morning walk, then head back into town for coffee and lots of talking.

I was missing those summertime walks with my friend. Clayton died on February 22 just as we was about to turn 96. Somehow, I suppose I thought he’d just keep on walking. I could never picture him out of commission, or out of the picture forever. It’s probably a good thing that our minds and hearts think that way about our loved ones. Because, then, their essence of spirit lives on in us. Eventually, the time for moping must come to an end.

“Stand and walk,” my friend ‘Ole Clate’ would be telling me now. If I learned one thing from this friendship, it was to know a person who lived with true grit. Ole Clate, who was of my father’s generation, daily lived that way, with disciplined persistence.

Looking back, I realize that my friendship with Clayton, both in walking and in writing, took shape not long after my father passed away. My husband’s dad, also of that generation, felt his influence through our friendship with Clayton. At 98, he’s just now moving back to his home town in Michigan, and settling into an independent living community.

We’re grateful for the influence and inspiration of Clayton Klein, who demonstrated that true grit, and who showed us that at any age, we can conquer all things through energy and persistence, as Benjamin Franklin said.

Life may not always be a walk in the park, but a walk in the park can affect the heart. We may not carry a walking meter to measure our path, as Clayton did; but step by step, mile by mile, we can keep on walking. It’s easy to give up.

It’s easy to stay indoors and sit in our easy chairs or office chairs. Something there is about walking, though, and walking outdoors whenever possible, that makes all the difference.

Walking out in nature can mend the heart. That’s the message I’ve internalized from my friendship with Clayton. Putting one foot in front of the other, keeping on keeping on — over the river and through the woods, making forward movement is what’s important, no matter our age.

For Clayton, there was no day without walking. I’m not that dedicated, or disciplined about my daily walking. But, I’m glad for the opportunity to walk outdoors whenever I can. And, I’m definitely aware of the health benefits.

I hadn’t walked in the park in a long time. But I got to thinking one day, that maybe that’s what I needed to do. Go for a walk, by myself, in the park where we walked. Maybe then I’d feel better. Maybe then, this moping would stop.

So, the day I decided to make myself do this was that perfectly beautiful day in July. I’d an hour between two eye doctor appointments and there was no excuse to not go there and see how I felt.

It was something I had to do by myself. The park looked the same. The blue sky formed a canopy for huge puffy clouds to gaze up at, with a sea of brilliant green grass below to wind through.

The park benches were still there. Someone told me there were city plans for a memorial bench in Clayton’s honor. As I sat for a moment on our favorite by the tree line, I wondered where the new one would be.

My hour was soon up, and I drove on to my next appointment. I felt amazingly light and buoyant in spirit, knowing that — in spirit — I’d been walking with Ole Clate, and would, all the time.

When a robin showed up, hopping along just ahead of me, I recalled my cheerful friend and our shared interest in birds. I took it as a clue. Now, not to mope anymore, but to listen to my heart, to what wisdom I’ve gained, and to share down the road what I’ve learned.

When I got home, I realized that the day I’d felt compelled to go for a walk in the park, was five months to the day since my friend had passed. That was a synchronicity I’d missed, but made me smile.

The affirming piece of information came after I’d settled on the title for my blog,  Can a walk in the park mend the heart? — when I’d asked myself that question and determined to test it out. Of course, I already knew the answer in a general sense, from my friendship with Ole Clate, and through my own intuition.

I loved it when that reference to my subject came into my email news. Here it is, an article from the New York Times: How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain. Health writer Gretchen Reynolds writes this on July 22 and begins with… “A walk in the park may sooth the mind…”

I, for one, love to find studies that confirm or affirm my current thinking. It’s doubly fun when you’re thinking about something and suddenly, some cool thing shows up like that article. Well, you can read the rest and discover study results confirming what Clayton knew, and what his walking fans know that will follow them no matter their age. No study needed.

Overall, this is a wonderful study about the effect of walking outdoors on our psyche. More study will help the cause, to raise awareness of the benefits to our health and well being of getting out in nature.

But we don’t need a study to tell us what we innately know. We just need to summon the energy and persistence to get outside and discover for ourselves how we feel.

Link to New York Times article:

How Walking in Nature Can Change the Brain by Gretchen Reynolds

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