One of my favorite U2 songs is called “Walk On.” It’s about leaving everything behind, believing in yourself, to always have hope, and to keep on going no matter what. Well, sometimes it’s difficult to move ahead when our minds and feelings keep us stuck in the same place. When the mind makes our bodies physically sick, and we just want to be under the covers without any human contact. At times we go through trauma that completely debilitates us. Two years ago, I was emotionally healing from a violent incident that had occurred — healing in all sense of the word. So, I signed up to do the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, because I needed a physical goal. I tend to be a goal oriented person, and I needed this to get me out there on the pavement to work through my stress. I had done this 39.3 mile walk twice before in memory of my aunt whom we lost to the dreadful disease and my mom who’s a three year survivor now. However, this time I was going to do it alone. I didn’t ask any of my friends to do it with me.
I started training for the walk in early May even though it was in October since it’s not exactly a walk in the park. My weekends, and some weeknights were spent walking all over New York City. I mapped out destinations, Googled the distance, laced up my sneakers, and headed out. I would get home exhausted, but something started to happen. My sorrows, sad thoughts, and pain were left on the sidewalks of the city. I began seeing other people’s pain, stories, places, and some really amazing sites. I discovered the historic houses of New York City. I began picking places that I had never been to or that I wanted to revisit, got up early, and went there. I would sometimes walk to Brighton Beach where I grew up since I arrived from El Salvador when I was a child. After the seven mile walks, I would submerge myself into the water with all of my clothes on. The salty, warm waters reminded me that I was alive, blessed, and whole.
The walk itself was another amazing experience. I set out early with the thousands of women to walk the first 26 miles on a warm, October Saturday. I made my sign that said in memory of “Tia Chabela and in honor of my Mom,” and pinned it on to my pink shirt. There were groups of friends, family members, and teams walking together. I was by myself. Yet, I said a silent prayer for my aunt, and asked her to be with me throughout the way. It wasn’t an easy day, but I managed to complete the entire 26 miles. I almost choked at a few points when I realized that the route was taking me to places that were important to me throughout my life. Some happy, and others not so great. I realized then that this was my walking pilgrimage. Regardless, I kept on going. I remembered my aunt, her pain, tears, and all of the suffering that she went through before she died. The first walk that I had done in her memory sent me to get foot surgery, for I was not prepared. Yet, here I was doing it again one third time.
I walked with some strangers at some points, but somehow I always ended up alone. Yet, I never felt alone. The last 13 miles were easy on the next Sunday. I’m not sure who or what was carrying me, but I even stopped to have a celebratory beer with other walkers on mile 38. The Frying Pan, a water restaurant, was donating free beers to the walkers. I pretty much skipped down the last mile. Less because of the beer, but more because I had no idea why my feet didn’t hurt. Maybe it was that beer…
That is when the most amazing thing happened. My best friend and godson, who at the time was 6, were waiting for me at the finish line. He wanted to cross it with me. So I grabbed him, and carried him across. I felt accomplished, and most importantly, I felt great! The crappy feelings that I started the journey with were no longer there. He lifted up his little arms, and cheered me on to “GO!” How could I not go? I put him down when a young woman came up to me. She hugged me, and had tears in her eyes. I didn’t know her. Then she said, “You have been on this walk in front of me the entire time. I just lost my mom two months ago. I saw you all alone, and we tried to keep up, but you had your own pace.” Then she hugged me again, and said, “We were always behind you, and you were always giving us hope that we could finish this, because we knew that your Tia Chabela was guiding you. None of us were ever alone.” I will never forget those words, for this stranger reminded me that we are never alone, and that someone is always looking at us for hope and inspiration. That no matter what we are going through, someone else might be having a hard(er) time too.
I did a 5 mile walk today, and my eyes caught two seagulls fighting over pizza, found a new restaurant that I’d like to check out, but realized that walking has become therapeutic. It pumps blood into my heart, oxygen into my lungs, makes me raise my hands so that they don’t fall asleep, and makes me drink water when I’m thirsty. All of this reminds me that I’m alive. I don’t listen to music when I do it, but just allow things around me to affect my thoughts. Every step that I take makes me feel present. So whenever anyone is stuck in a moment (another U2 song that I love), I want to tell them to “walk” on, dance on, write on, play on — but to do anything that will make them feel present and alive. We are worth it, and never alone.