Nobody is on the Common at 5:30 a.m. besides me. I can hear you saying, “You seriously thought there would be?!” but when I began walking, back at the end of May, there actually were other walkers at that hour. Not many, true, but they were there. Now they show up just as I’m finishing my walk, at 6:00 a.m. I don’t know how this will all pan out in another month, but it’s been an interesting evolution.
The temperature this morning was a most welcome 60°F (around 17°C). For the past several days, we’ve had positively Floridian weather, and we aren’t used to that kind of thing around here. One walker showed up one morning with a wet T-shirt, something I’m not inclined to do, myself: Somehow, I don’t think that the judges of Wet T-Shirt contests are looking for the Little Mother Russia type. I was able to get in 2½ laps, which isn’t even a mile (one lap is a third of a mile); but then, I’ve only been doing this for nine weeks, after having been almost totally sedentary since 2006 (see blog entries around that time for the reason why. It takes a long time to recover from abdominal surgery!).
Not that I haven’t tried. Taking Russian classes since 2001 involved a considerable bit of walking around a college campus, in the truest sense of the word “campus” — the University’s buildings, by and large, can only be reached by hiking across fields, up and down hills, and through sylvan paths. Very lovely and idyllic, but it’s a workout and no mistake. Why it didn’t work out in terms of fitness is a mystery to me; I can only think that perhaps it was because those hills were so steep that I had to stop often to catch my breath, whereas the Common is level, so I can walk at a steadier pace. Whatever. It seems to be working, at least in terms of toning muscles and losing belly fat.
However, I must confess that Walking For Health And Fitness was not remotely on my radar screen when I began, nor did I start trotting out to the Common at oh-dark-thirty for a Morning Constitutional. No; the entire reason for my Common forays was — my prayers.
For about the past ten years (a little more, actually), I’ve been praying Matins and Vespers, offices of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Priests tell us that lay people shouldn’t actually do these prayers, but at the time, I didn’t know that; all I really knew was that I’ve loved the idea of having fixed times of day to devote exclusively to worship ever since I first learned of the idea, somewhere around, I don’t know, second grade? Certainly no later than fourth grade. I used to be able to say my morning prayers in peace and quiet any time between 4:30 and 7:00 a.m., since my husband left for work around 4:15 a.m. After attending a music school over four summers at a monastery in Upstate New York, I learned the music needed for singing these offices, and I tell myself (and my priest) that I need to be able to keep my hand in by singing Matins and Vespers regularly. Well, that’s partly true; in reality, I just love the prayers.
This worked very well until last October, when the hubster retired. That wasn’t the catastrophe I had feared; he’s had too much to do with getting his father’s house ready to sell, and now that it’s summer, he spends a very great deal of time out of doors. But early in the morning, he likes to watch television news. And in a house that measures less than a thousand square feet, there isn’t a lot of room to get away from each other. Even the back bedroom is uncomfortably close to the living room.
I tried various solutions, but nothing seemed to work until I hit on the idea of taking myself off to the Common, really early, and taking my prayer book with me. That lasted all of a day, by itself, before the hubster came up with the brilliant idea: Wouldn’t you like a Nice Little Walk Around the Common? Well, actually, no. I’m there to attend to my spiritual life, not my physical well-being. But the next day it occurred to me that I could actually get in a walk if I took into account the rest of my prayer life: my “rosary.” Orthodox Christians use a string of beads that looks like a Catholic rosary, but functions quite differently: By saying the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on…”), you can achieve a great degree of flexibility in terms of whom you pray for. I’ve used mine for years to pray for my husband, our children, various friends, my spiritual father, a whole raft of people. And it dawned on me: Orthodox monastics walk while saying their prayer ropes. I can do that too!
So I do. I head out the door within about 15 minutes of waking up, grab a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts because without warm liquid, my voice would put a frog to shame at that hour of the day, and walk. Twice around the Common is worth six turns on my prayer rope. Once the weather cools off sufficiently for me to walk in the afternoon, too, I will add another 2/3 of a mile around the Common, and six more people. If I ever get to a point where I can walk a full mile around the Common without feeling as if I’ve run a marathon, well, I have more people I can add to the prayer rope. Keeps everybody happy, including, I hope, our Lord.