If I could walk anywhere in the world right now, I’d stroll along the streets and long avenues of my first home place, New York City. Anyone who reads this column regularly might find that odd since mostly I write about the pleasures of walking in nature.
But if I could, I’d bundle up and step out the door and be at the Fort Tryon Park of my childhood where I’d look across the wide Hudson River to New Jersey. And quickly, because it’s awfully cold, I’d get to the subway station and be up close to the smell of steam thawing winter, and the awful stench of urine’s lingering tinge would greet me and, surprisingly, for even that connotes the joy of familiarity, would make me happier. And then I’d squeeze myself along with so many others onto a standing-room-only subway car and we’d jostle toward downtown but I’d exit long before my destination at, say 59th Street, and head south on 5th looking into store windows but not stopping till I got to the Strand Bookstore at Union Square and I’d go in and buy as many new and used books as I could carry.
This morning I read about the Giorgio Morandi show in the Village, and that’s where I’d go next. When I read the review, I wept. It’s kind of funny, if you think about it, crying over being unable to stand before the Morandis. What did he paint in soft, muted, brushstroke-visible colors? Mostly every day, household objects: a milk bottle, a sugar bowl. And what are many of us surrounded by these days? Ha—household objects! I’m not crying for a butter dish.
I’m crying for having something personal to look forward to, sad for the lack of personal freedom to move about. And though I am, like much of America, experiencing a profound return of hope since President Biden took office and began to restore us to being the smart, responsible country we used to be, I’m still sad. With news of new variants of the virus springing up, going anywhere far from home may have to wait for a damn long time. In fact, since things started to get better, I’ve been able to more fully allow myself to acknowledge the grief and fear I’ve been carrying in too many corners of myself for four years.
These days, I’m sad for my lack of freedom in another way too. Coping with yet a new foot injury, I’m unable to walk in the hills and forests that I can get to nearly by blinking my eyes, so I’m having to quite literally shelter in place. Walking isn’t only about keeping physically healthy, for me, it’s how I achieve emotional balance. Maybe you’re like this too.
When out walking it’s not just that my body — torso, legs, and my swinging arms — feels un-bordered and unburdened, my mind does. The dark and difficult thoughts that can enclose me when I’m still and at home become birds that take flight. Watching them go, I wave farewell. The next thoughts that come are lighter and brighter.
Though I may be a slow learner when it comes to certain things, I am, nevertheless, a learner. Perhaps what I’m beginning to learn might be useful for others unable to travel to the places they long to be or to sit beside the ones they miss, nearly unbearably so.
The other day, feeling particularly boxed in, I sat myself down. A voice within said, “Tricey, this is just the way it is for now.” Still, I kicked and screamed. “There is only one thing that you can change,” the wiser part of myself counseled. “Oh, yeah?” I asked through my tears.“Exactly what?” “Your attitude,” that other part replied. “You know, I don’t like the word ‘attitude.’ It sounds off-putting and clinical.” “How about point of view?” myself asked myself. “Yes, I like that there could be a new point to my view.”
After listing the pages and pages of my good fortunes, I returned to where I began this column. I went back to where I can’t physically go. As a point-of-view shifter, I returned to my early life that I relive with surprising vivacity. Some days, more than anyone else, I’m my mother’s 3-year-old as we romp through Riverside Park or when I’d hold her hand tightly as she flags down a cab, standing in the street, just beyond the curb, one hand uplifted, arm outstretched. How beautiful she looks in her high heels, pretty dress and hat.
The thing about New York City, unlike many places, is that you can arrive there in the 21st century and actually go back to the 1950s and ‘60s. The apartment building of my childhood in Washington Heights is there and looks just as it did decades earlier. The doors to the subway station on my street are painted the same shade of green as they once were. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has just as many steps to climb as it ever did and the lobby is as wide and magnificent as ever.
On this winter day in 2021, I’m once again flying down the still-rickety steps of the subway station at Ditmars Blvd in Astoria, Queens, and I run over to La Guli’s, and because it’s my story, it is suddenly late spring and the flowers are beginning to color the city and the birds are being born. The pastry shop of my childhood will be selling ices. A lemon ice to eat as I walk the familiar way to grandmother’s house.
By the time I get back home, here to Del Rey Oaks, where we’re awaiting a big rainstorm, my point-of-view isn’t just altered; it’s expanded and refreshed. My fears of the virus and those I love who are sick with it and those I don’t know who are sick with it and my frustration at being unable to walk have shrunk — for now — and become no bigger and no more powerful than the breadcrumbs I sweep off the kitchen table into my hand.
Del Rey Oaks writer and poet Patrice Vecchione is the author of several books including, most recently, “My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice: A Guide to Writing Poetry & Speaking Your Truth” and “Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life.” Her titles are available wherever books are sold. More at patricevecchione.com
Contributed by local news sources