Never have I felt so grateful for a walk.
Today, puffy plane trails are cutting across the sky, dissolving into gray haze at the horizon. The weather is cold enough to feel. I take a gulp of fresh air. All the buds on the trees are starting to appear, which means that in a couple of days, Washington, D.C., will be in the throes of spring. Having lived here for nearly three years, I know this to be true: Once you start noticing the buds, spring comes all at once, everything turning green, everything coming alive.
Never have I felt so grateful for a walk. Here in D.C., reality feels like it’s teetering on some existential precipice, but for now, we’re still free to walk, run, social distance outdoors. That’s not the case in places like Italy, where my aunt, uncle and cousins live, and where you can get a fine or jail term for certain outings. I fear the worst may happen here, too; I don’t know how many days we have left. But today, I feel thankful for my body’s ability to move, and for the fact that it’s allowed to.
Never have I felt so grateful for a walk, and that’s coming from someone who has always cherished walks. When I lived closer to my office downtown, I’d take a long, meandering route to get there, extending what could have been 10 minutes to at least a half-hour. I’d walk to and from friends’ houses; traverse the city to get to doctors’ appointments; cross bridges to explore new cafes and shops. In as small a city as this, walking makes sense. Walking gets you where you need to go.
It allowed me to think. I liked best to walk alone, with music — the kind of music that you can tune into or out of. My playlists often changed with the seasons; I’d keep pace with the beat. And as my body wandered, my mind would, too. I’d walk toward a 5 o’clock sun faltering behind dark buildings, and a recent breakup would come to mind. Or I’d notice how the particular curve of a hilly street reminded me of San Francisco, where I grew up.
My walks are different now. I’m not taking my usual route in the mornings, because there’s no physical office to walk to. Instead, I’m getting outside in the middle of the day because I’ll go stir crazy in my studio apartment if I don’t. Sometimes I walk laps around the park across my street just to feel in the distanced company of others — I watch strangers doing push-ups on the grass or reading on the benches. More people than ever seem to be walking for the sake of it.
What occupies my mind is different, too. Now, I think about what it means to be an adult. I wonder if I should risk going back to California, closer to family, to quarantine where I’d actually have space to spread out. If this were two years ago, a year even, I’d probably already have left. That’s what many of my friends — also in their mid-20s — have done. I don’t blame them. It’s scary to be alone during a pandemic when we’re only just figuring out how to be on our own. What will it mean to live through a history-defining moment as we define ourselves?
I wonder if I’d regret abandoning the life I’ve created for myself here. I think about how much I love my apartment, even in its smallness — I love how the afternoon light paints the couch and the carpet in gold, love the birds chattering outside my window right before the sun comes up. I think about the few close friends I have left in the city, and how quickly they have become a necessity, family. If I left, I have no idea when I’d return — it wouldn’t be a matter of weeks, but months. I know I’d miss the life I’ve created. For the first time, some place besides my parents’ house really feels like home.
On the way back to my apartment, I purposefully pass by a jasmine bush, because I know I’ll get a strong, syrupy waft of it. I started noticing the smell a few weeks ago, back when the coronavirus was a news story set somewhere far away. I don’t know how much longer the bush will bloom; I wonder what my life, all our lives, will look like when it stops.
Never have I felt so grateful for a walk. There’s solace in knowing that as long as I put one foot in front of the other, I will keep moving through this particular world. It might not be the same world tomorrow or next week, so I take a moment to feel lucky for every walk, every waft of jasmine, I have now. And I feel grateful for everything else I have, too — health and happiness, my job, loved ones to laugh with.
Wispy clouds are overtaking the sky, erasing the baby blue. Cherry blossom petals are falling to the ground — that sweet promise of perennial beauty. And I notice the buds on my favorite tree are bigger than yesterday. I give it another week, and then the buds will be leaves, and then everything will be green. I know this to be true, too: Life renews.