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Avoiding Pandemic Panic

When in doubt, I walk.

I grew up walking everywhere because we only had one driver in the house until I was a teen. I took public transportation and by the time I was eight I had mastered the bus schedules between cities, but I still needed to get to the bus stops. So I walked.

In college I walked places with heavy books on my back and as a parent I walked places with children on my back (or front).

When those children were struggling and in crisis I walked the paved trails of the park and slowed my steps to a meditative pace.

When I learned about our move across the country I took to the trails of San Jose with a different intent; I moved like a scanning device, absorbing the experience as if I could make a digital file of it to be recalled after the move.

This morning I hear the news about the pandemic reaching the US and I feel all the fear rise, so I lace up my shoes and step outside, ignoring the sticky air because I know it will cool off with the breeze from the water. Dodging cars and other pedestrians I walk about a mile along the Indian River lagoon. About one mile north of my house I pause. The heat and humidity catch me up, but I enjoy the pulsing sensation from the bottoms of my feet, the rhythm of my heart and breath that matches the rhythm of the water and wind. The uptick in boat activity in the river is a direct result of the shelter-in-place order, but the birds wading on the shoreline don't seem to mind sharing their space with noisy humans. I mind, so I search for a podcast on my phone for the walk back home and I notice I've left some of the fear, worry and frustration on the road behind me. I let it seep out through my shoes, each strike of my heel a release of the emotional charge of the moment. I notice this and I hear author and poet Mark Nepo explain it in his interview on The One You Feed podcast. He tells his interviewer about how he overcomes the sticky churning of a crisis by "Moving at the pace of what is real." That pace could be swimming, gardening, walking, dancing, etc. Anything that doesn't let this moment whip by unexperienced. His words remind me of my walks. I look up. I smile at my fellow pedestrians who are also taking in the world around them at a "real" pace.

The squirrels chase each other up a tree.

The crows gather and debate then fly off overhead.

A few more steps and I see my house. I can breathe slowly again. I can experience each moment as it comes, each footfall on my path. I arrive at my door and leave the skin of panic outside, like ice cubes on the road, ready to be melted and absorbed by the Florida heat.

The walk's medicine has reached me again. I write this in the hope that if you are feeling panic you'll find a way to walk or swim or dance to the pace of what is real.

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