For the last few months, mornings have taken on a different significance for me. My need to find calm has led me to the outdoors. Instead of quickening my pace for a run, I’ve slowed down my cadence to walking. My feet take a more purposeful stride and I look up and notice the light-blue hue of the sky and the assorted hot air balloons sprinkled across the horizon. The air has a variety of smells. Passing by one house, a family is cooking breakfast and I recognize the aroma of curry. At another, I know a mother or father is loading laundry, the wisps of floral detergent spilling around their house. All of these smells are couched under the umbrella of the desert air, where in the morning I can sometimes taste the grittiness of the sand.
There are sounds and sights that accompany my walk. The rabbits scurry alongside my path, darting in no particular identifiable direction. A few cars zoom fast, but my ears gravitate toward the chirping birds. A tree near my path houses an owl and her babies; branches provide a place where this mother can cradle her babies so they can eventually take flight. A few flower petals on the bougainvillea shimmer pink. I want to touch them, but pull back, not wanting to disturb the perfect dewdrops that rest on the petals.
My tempo moves to a brisk walk, but my breathing finds a rhythm that is comfortable and relaxing. My mind senses a comfort that I do not ordinarily encounter when I am trying to meditate at home or even during my runs. This practice of walking is soothing, like a soft lullaby putting a baby to sleep. As I continue to walk, pieces of my past make their debut.
One particular memory startles me. I think of my father and his marriage to his walks. Every evening after dinner, his ritual consisted of taking a long walk around the neighborhood. Sometimes my mom accompanied him, while other times he chose to walk on his own. As a little girl, I recognized my father’s dedication and commitment to these evening strolls. I sensed their purpose involved more than just exercise because he only missed them when he wasn’t feeling well or some other pressing issue required his attention. For over 20 years, the evening walk became a fixture of my father’s life. Even when he faced a Stage III B cancer diagnosis, he walked. That’s when I realized the meditative aspect of this ritual that my father cultivated.
My own need to walk began as a way to explore a different way to meditate, but I realize the unexpected surprise in these strolls. They allow me to extend back to my past and think of my father and his fondness for the same ritual. In the last few years, so much of my mind has focused on his days in hospice, how his disease progressed so much he could not muster enough breath to climb out of his hospital bed. Walking was not an option for him. Thinking how much he struggled in his final days provides a direct contrast to how my feet touch the pavement with very little effort. I am not walking only for myself, but am connecting with my father in a way that was wholly unexpected.
Rounding the corner, I see my home. With a deep breath, I walk up the driveway and glance at the cactus in front of our yard. I tilt my gaze upward. Looking up, I smile. Thank you, Dad, I whisper. I now understand the significance of my morning strolls.
This post originally appeared on First Day Press.