Back on Staten Island the past week I’ve been making an effort to walk more, and it feels odd. Sometimes people in cars pass by and look at me like they’re confused. Sometimes the sidewalk just stops, and I have to decide whether to cross to the other side or just walk in the street.
But some things are familiar, like the smells in the air I remember as a kid. Back then, we’d stay outside all day and ride our bicycles everywhere. In backyards or “in the woods” we’d play on our knees in the dirt or even mud, getting grass stains on our jeans, and more dirt under our nails. We’d make mud-pies, toss around tree bark and itchy-balls. We’d pick up rocks and leaves, and acorns for no reason. And all around us green “propellers” would fall from the sky.
Lately when I walk, I look down toward my feet and see what’s left of nature: a patch of grass around a tree, a stray stick on the concrete, and a snippet of dog shit left by a careless owner. Rarely do I see or hear kids playing in the street. The air seems still; gates and doors on houses are closed; cars and trucks fill the driveways and line the curbs in every spot that’s open.
Who thought it would feel weird to do something as natural as walking. The idea of having to “get exercise” is a strange thing, but I’m feeling like I need it more and more lately. As a kid, we just moved around a lot, and that was our exercise. Today, there is a whole industry designed around keeping people “in shape,” because we simply stopped moving. I’ve been to gyms occasionally over the years and worked out back in school. But after leaving high school, it became a real effort to make sure I kept active or using my body in some way. What is it about adulthood that makes us, as they say in the bible, leave childish things behind.
Something I read in an article with Mel Gibson years ago stayed with me. He was asked if he’d worked out to stay in shape, but he said “no.” He said it was a waste of time, energy and movement. The interviewer was confused, because Mel was just voted one of the most attractive people in the world at that time. Gibson pointed out how foolish it can seem when you imagine having to go somewhere to perform movements with weights, or riding a stationary bike, and doing reps with a machine: all of these actions being done but not going toward any real work. The point was that if we didn’t stop being physically active in our daily lives, we wouldn’t need to “work out” or go to the gym. The whole fitness industry wouldn’t exist , and what does this say about us as people?