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What I Really Know About Long Walks: The Upside of Looking Down

I have a special way of walking. I look down at the path instead of up and ahead—perhaps because I’m a tall woman who is used to stumbling on rocks and sticks and minor hillocks as I make my way. You could call me a down-looker, as opposed to the other half of humanity, the up-lookers.

I like to watch my feet and study the shaded pathways. The advantages are huge. I notice the tiny things—the wild violets growing between the cracks in the sidewalk, the scuttling roach, the color of pebbles. While I scrutinize the earth, I can ignore the larger, more considerable threats to my safety—like global warming and war in the Middle East. I’m too busy looking down at the small things.

I never miss the names cut into the concrete sidewalk, some with old dates: “Suzy loves Brad, 1961.” Right away, my mind goes back to 1961, when I first started teaching. I can see the faces of students and remember classrooms I still miss.

The sidewalk reveals stories in its litter, too. Careless people with bad manners discard wrappers and cans in the gutters. Weary moms drop dirty diapers by the wayside. I see vomit and condoms too, I must admit. Last week I saw a colored chalk message, “Bring our troops home from Iraq!” scrawled in clumsy pastel letters. Revelations.

I can’t change the way I walk, but I’m conscious that I miss a lot by looking down. What I miss, I suppose, is the sky at different times of day, the sense of where I’m heading and even where I am. I may miss an appealing garden, and I don’t see people’s faces before I see their shoes. I probably even missed a passing parade. Yet, once I discovered a fine drinking glass, and another time I found a sapphire ring. Maybe I don’t care about my location, and that says something about who I am. Either I’m a citizen of the universe, or I’m lost most of the time.

I realize we can’t change certain basic things about ourselves, and I’ll probably choose to miss the sweeping waves and poke around at the shells on the beach for the rest of my life.

The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Elaine Greensmith Jordan is a reader from Prescott, Ariz.

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