I see her five days a week, Monday through Friday. Always at 10:00 or so, just as I’m dropping off mail and picking up more.
She’s always dressed the same—faded jeans, white T shirt. Always has a cup of coffee in her hand, held up close to her mouth, even if she’s not sipping. Her strides are as short as her age is long, to the point where she seems to patter along instead of walk.
There are, of course, many walkers around campus. The scenery is green and quiet and safe. But her routine ensures she stands out from the rest. She will take three steps and pause, her head down as if in prayer, then sip. Take three more steps, repeat. Every day, Monday through Friday. And probably the others too, but I’m at home and can’t see her.
I was at the 7-11 this morning, hunting for lunch, and said hello to the person in line in front of me. Turns out it was her.
“I know you,” she said. “You’re the boy who passes me every day.”
I said yes and smiled, thinking it had been a very long time since someone called me boy.
She sipped her coffee and smiled. “You must think I’m a crazy person.”
“For the way I go about my morning constitutional,” she said. “You know.” She moved out of the line and proceeded to take three small steps toward the candy aisle, stopped, sipped. “That.”
“I don’t think that makes you a crazy person,” I said.
“Yes you do.”
I paused. Said, “Though I’ll admit it has upon occasion made me a mite curious.”
“Ha!” she said, stepping back into line. “I knew it. You know how many people think that? That I’m crazy? I get that all the time.”
I nodded, not sure of an appropriate response.
“But I’m not,” she said. “Not crazy at all. I’m smart. Smarter than all the other walkers.” Then she leaned in close and whispered, “Wasn’t born that way, though. I got smart the way you’re supposed to—by screwing up a lot first.”
The man at the cash register finally bought his lottery tickets. He left, the line moved up.
“Makes sense,” I said. “If that’s true, then I’m going to be a genius one of these days.”
“Wanna know why I do that? Why I walk that way?”
“I forgot how to walk.”
I looked at her, this woman who said she wasn’t crazy at all but sure did seem like she was.
“I was a lawyer in a former life,” she told me, the line moving once more. “That’s a horrible existence. Always running around, always in a hurry. Know what happens when you’re always in a hurry? Life passes you. I got rich, but I lost entire years of living. Isn’t that horrible?”
“Sounds like it,” I said.
She laid her coffee on the counter and smiled at the cashier, a tired-looking young man who would rather be somewhere else.
“I retired last year and decided I was going to learn how to walk again. Not like the other people who parade around on that campus. They’re always out there with some intention. Shape this or firm that. Not me. My only intention is to feel and listen. When I’m walking, I’m feeling. But I always stop, because the only time anyone can listen is when they stop.”
She paid and left. I sat my lunch on the counter and watched her go. She paused at the edge of the parking lot and sipped her coffee. Stretched out her arms. Then she walked three steps and stopped.
Feeling and listening.
I like this lady. She’s taught me much.
Like how sometimes we have to slow down so life doesn’t pass us, and how we can live entire years and yet lose them just the same.