Each day I take a short walk from my office at work. There is a green residential neighborhood behind my office building, and I routinely do a similar route. I walk past a community garden, across from an elementary school, down a quiet street and back. At the moment, it is providing joyful evidence of the presence of spring. Near the far end of the walk is a bush, that for the last week has been leaved in the most vibrant shade of yellow I've ever seen.
I use these walks for contemplation. My intention is typically to slow down and observe, but more often than not I crank through thought at an astonishing pace. Occasionally I remind myself to notice my surroundings and to pay attention. The magnificent yellow bush, for the last week, has served as a potent environmental cue to tune in. For the few paces in which I pass by, I am aware of only the spendid yellow leaves.
I am accustomed to setting my own pace. If I want to go fast, I go fast. This is most of the time. When I have the discipline and inclination, I slow down. This is far rarer.
As I reached the parking lot for my office today, by the back entrance were an elderly couple. I share an office complex with numerous medical providers, including a physical therapist's office. The man was clearly a patient there. His gait was slow and halting. He could only step forward with his right foot, then wait for his left to catch up.
His wife stood by, with her hands in her jacket pocket. Although I could see in her face and her posture an intense desire to help, she stood by, refusing to age for her partner. She could have taken his arm, she could have been his left leg. At the pace they were going, it probably took five minutes to walk the thirty feet to their car, a distance I covered in fifteen strides and a few seconds.
I was reminded of an interview I heard on Fresh Air a few years ago with Dr. Ellen Langer, a Harvand psychologist and aging research. The gist of the interview, as I remember it from long ago, was that aging is heavily influenced by our attitudes about it and the habitual behaviors in which we engage. If his wife had indicated to him that he needed to be helped, and if he would have acquiesced to his limitation, he likely would age much more quickly. Her patient presence and hands-off support allowed him to continue to grow and develop.
Hope and possibility aren't states of mind or fleeting feelings, they are actions. Sometimes they don't come cheap. They may require slowing down, paying attention and accepting things as they are. Within that presence of mind lies the possibility for things we don't know- or at least chance to experience a moment in this world.