Most days, when my husband finishes work, we go for a walk. Sometimes it’s just down to the mailbox and back, a little more than a mile. Other days we feel like we should go farther and make the long loop around our block, about almost three miles. It’s good exercise for us, physically and mentally. Mentally is what I want to emphasize here. There’s nothing else to do but keep walking. We can’t read, check social media, do the dishes, or go out to the yard. We just walk and think which leads to talking.
The longer our walks, the deeper our conversations go, and sometimes there are long stretches of silence as we go along. After a longer bit of silence, my husband will say something like, “I’m thinking about water quality and beer flavor.” I laugh because he knows the quieter it gets, the more I wonder what’s up, and he always tries to make my life easier no matter what we are doing.
Our long walks give us time to think and to explore ideas, talk about the kids, what we’re reading, things that have happened during the day. We always feel closer when we walk often.
It’s just the two of us walking now, but we’ve been walking since the kids were little. When we were home, we’d walk to the park or down the street to Disneyland. We’d walk on our vacations and camping trips, covering miles of trails and RV park roads. When we lived in the city, we’d take our tent trailer out to the desert and camp in the wilderness. We’d take long walks away from camp, as far as little legs would go, take a break and then circle back. The kids always led the way out, BB guns and canteens strapped to their backs, and then dragged behind us on the way back.
Discussions abounded on those walkabouts, even when they were little. We’d talk about what we saw on the trail, what we had to eat, and where we were going next. Sometimes big questions would come up. And we’d have lots of time to think and answer, think again, and ask more questions. There’s just something special about walking together that lends itself to serious connection with your fellow walkers. No matter how mundane the location, you’re on an adventure, a quest. And the time together is never wasted.
I specifically remember one walk when it was just my sons and me out in the desert. We decided to stay an extra couple of days instead of coming home in traffic on Sunday afternoon. My husband worked from home and we had a decent internet connection at camp, so he worked from the trailer while the boys and I played. Early in the morning, he had driven us far back into the hills where the old mines were and left us to spend the day walking back so he could work in peace. We had a backpack of snacks, water, and emergency supplies, and the boys were thrilled to try leading me back to camp.
As we walked, we pointed things out, investigated interesting rock formations, and took pictures of critters we found. They climbed a hill together and planted a “flag” at the top, an old bandana they had in the backpack. We took breaks, sitting in sandy washes in the shade of a large creosote or rock face. And we talked. This one was very special though. This time my eight-year-old son asked me questions about God and we spent most of the walk exchanging ideas. It was incredible.
I’ll never forget it. We caught site of camp when we came to the crest of the hill, four hours of walking and exploring coming to a close, when my son stops and looks at me, “You know mom, you should be a pastor or something. When you talk about God, I feel it. It makes me want to know more.” My heart just about exploded. Unsolicited praise from your children is like nothing else in this world.
Long drives have always had a similar effect on us as long walks, a chance to be quiet and think and to talk in ways we never seem to have when we’re at home. We don’t listen to the radio, but we do listen to music. There are several whole albums we have to hear on every trip over an hour-long, because that’s how you’re supposed to hear them, not in pieces on the radio, so they insist. We hold our thoughts until a break between songs and are sure to hit pause when we have to bring up a subject for general discussion. Drives to amusement parks, homeschool events, and family parties, road trips, and shopping excursions were filled with deep philosophical conversations. Ok, not really! Sometimes they got deep, many times, but usually, it was about something funny they’d seen or what they wanted to do tomorrow. But the more we drove, the deeper the conversations got.
I find myself driving alone more often now and I listen to podcasts instead of albums. I frequently find myself wanting to pause and discuss what I just heard with my family, but they aren’t there. I keep a notebook in the car now so I can write down my ideas for later because I swear I’m forgetting things more now that I have to hold on to an idea longer instead of blurting it out for immediate discussion. I learn and digest information best when I can talk about it out loud with others. Maybe it’s good exercise for me to hold on to it, let it ruminate and then discuss it later. It’s something I do have to work on these days.
Yesterday, my grown son wanted me to go with him to the city to go shopping. He could have gone without me. I had lots of other things to do besides sit in the car for two hours. We had a date though, and I felt like he really needed me to go, to show him I was still here when he needed me. I’m glad I did. My youngest isn’t much of a sharer of feelings and ideas. He’s a private man and keeps his thoughts close. But on this drive, he opened up and I listened. He talked about his first love and breakup, career plans, his college classes, life goals, and religion. I gave my two cents like I did when he was younger, but mostly I listened to my now-grown son show me exactly how smart and mature he has grown to be. I was in awe and I’m proud to have been invited in.
Why am I going on about this? Because conversation is important and to have a good conversation, we need to make space for it in our lives. We didn’t plan on taking long walks and drives with our kids so that they would have the time and space to talk, it just happened. I slowly became aware of what was happening as the kids grew and realized only recently, now that they are grown and moving out into their own lives, how special that time was and still is.
It seems like going for a walk with a friend might be an extravagance. There’s so much housework to do. It may seem like walking around the neighborhood with our loved ones is silly. Driving to a special store or small museum in the next town might feel like a waste of gas. We’ve been there, done that, and we see those people all the time. It’s not about the walk, the place, or the coffee, though. It’s about making a space for conversation to happen. It’s about connecting with people.
We’re all busy. The house is full of distractions. There’s so much at work to do. When we die, or when our loved ones go before us, will be satisfied that the laundry was done or that project was completed? Or will be happy that we got to really know our parents, our children, and our spouses. Will we sigh and say as we die, “Well, at least the kitchen cabinets are clean!” or will be gratified to know that our closest friends really know how we feel?
We can’t force the connection. We can’t tell everyone, “Today we will all talk to each other.” Or simply make a rule, “There are no smartphones or tablets allowed on this drive!” But we can make consistent safe space for our friends and family to reach out and talk. We can plan walks at the park. We can ask if they’d like to go with you. We can make lunch and coffee dates and keep them. And we can spend that time listening, asking questions, telling our stories, and allowing for the connection to happen or not.
It’s up to you. No one gets out of here alive and our time is limited. Spend it wisely.