Rather late in my life I have taken up the spiritually-healing, doctor-invoked plea, and all-in-all pain in the you-know-what athletic endeavor of walking.
Oh not just a little walk in the park. No, in my case, a walk in the dark. I'm up every morning at 5 a.m. and out the door for a brisk stroll along the banks of the Potomac River. Sounds lovely. On many a morning it is. On most, not so much. It's cold outside now. The leaves have all departed for their resting place in the garbage bags of another year and the earth beneath those running shoes of mine (whatever happened to calling them sneakers?) is as hard and painful on my knees as anything a sane human being would avoid stomping on. More about my knees in a minute.
There are the good moments, however, when I can watch the sun cast its shadowing glow on the water as it allows me an opportunity to actually see where I am going on the footpath to health. That moon has become a guiding beacon for me as I wrestle with thoughts of what the day has in store for me. I've got my iPhone's buds nestled into my ears and off I walk to the tunes of my youth.
Billy Joel and Fleetwood Mac have comforted me on many a foggy or snowy morning in Washington. It's a comfort to know that they are as "long in the tooth" as I am by now. They too are probably suffering from the maladies of aging that I grapple with today. In fact, hasn't Billy Joel had both his hips replaced and maybe a knee too? Ah, back to those knees. Yep, I've got the diagnosis of arthritic knees now. I suppose I didn't need an x-ray to tell me that. The constant pain and ruthless clicking sound of my knee bones yelling at the other parts of my leg was a sure sign.
But a sign of what? Aging? My past? My future? Our future? I know that by the Year 2045, there will be more adults on this earth than children. This phenomenon will be a first in the history of the world. In fact, all of civilization is getting older. We are it. We are the generation of now. The generation of older Americans.
For over 20 years I have worked in and for an organization that represents older Americans. But today, I must admit, I am they. I am an older American. Yes, I am one of the millions who thought that being a Baby Boomer didn't sound so bad.
I was a college student in the '60s and didn't trust anyone over 30. Until I became 30 and realized that I couldn't trust anyone. Well, it is vastly apparent to me now that this getting older thing isn't all it's cracked up to be. There are a great many wonderful things about getting older, to be sure. But there are some things that are not all that great. Like arthritic knees. Ouch.
But walking every morning has taught me many life lessons. It has taught me that not only are my creaky knees a problem but my hands and feet also freeze in the frigid air of January mornings. My ears are numb and scrunched up shoulders do nothing to mitigate the wind. But walking has also taught me something far more important than my constant kvetching conveys. It has taught me that discipline and a firm footing will help me to prevail in my life. Just to get out there everyday is a challenge and one that I must accept or -- I fail.
It has taught me that perseverance and willingness to fight the adversity of a few aches and pains will help me greatly in the long run. It has also given me the opportunity to reflect. You see, on those cold, dark morning jaunts I have the great fortune of being able to remember a past that has been quite spectacular.
I grew up at a time in our nation's history that saw incredible changes in technology and science and medicine and educational opportunities. I grew up in a two-parent household on a tree-lined street in suburbia. I grew up with a car in the garage and an easy walk to a school with a graduation rate of 100 percent. My upbringing has allowed me to reminisce with a smile on my face as I walk along the scenic path of the beautiful river that surrounds Washington, D.C. I am not far from the New York roots I love so dearly, yet in many ways, miles and miles apart.
My life is here now and my work leaves me little time to contemplate how different things would have been had I stayed closer to home. But I chose to come here and work in this city where so many come to "change the world."
Washington is a seductive town and one that has a bigger ego than perhaps any other. Most come to cities to have a job. Many come to this one to do a job. They are the believers: the ones who come to make a difference/change the world/take a stand. I applaud them. I may not agree with all of them, but I applaud them nonetheless.
We are, all of us, at once and despite our differences transfixed by the notion that we can do good. Isn't that what those in my generation heard JFK asking us to do? So what's so bad about that? Nothing. It's a wonderful calling and one that us Baby Boomers still seek to accomplish.
Yes, I'm older now and slowing down a tad, but not enough to make me stop. I still believe that working on behalf of others when I've had it so good is not just "putting back," but it really is just walking on yet another path -- one that is good for my health, my heart, my soul and my country.
Enid Borden is the President and CEO of Meals On Wheels Association of America.
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