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Whenever doctors say that the one thing every person can do to maintain good health is to walk, I think of my old boyfriend, Henry David Thoreau. Henry and I became close in ninth grade, when I read his Civil Disobedience.
He appealed to my rebellious nature. Our relationship solidified during my isolationist period in 11th grade, when I slept with Walden under my pillow. But Henry and I became intimate in college, when I read his essay "Walking."
In "Walking," America's foremost nature essay, Thoreau expounds on the practice of going for a walk in order to discover wildness. His idea of walking is not daily exercise, as our doctors advise, "but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day."
Henry spent four hours a day "sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements."
His idea of a walk is to go forth "in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return ... If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again - if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk."
Ahhh, freedom. How I adored it in college.
Today I have become too attached to family and friends to be the walker Henry advocates. In addition, I am afraid to walk alone in the forest, not to mention the desert. When Azarya Alon admonishes the Israeli public before every holiday to stay on the trails when walking outdoors "because the trail is smarter than all those who travel it," I obey.
The main reason I am no longer a walker in the Thoreau sense of the word, though, is that today I walk for a purpose: tzedaka.
Some 144 years after Thoreau's death, walking has become a popular way to raise funds for one's favorite charity. There is something quintessentially Jewish about this idea, which would rile my old boyfriend. We take free walking, pin a price tag on it, and hem it into a social context.
I walk to raise funds for Melabev, an NGO that runs nine daycare centers in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh for the frail elderly. This is a euphemism for people who can't remember what they ate for breakfast or who they live with, people who suffer from Alzheimer symptoms.
Melabev also offers home care, educational programming and family support groups.
I appreciate Melabev's work for two reasons. First of all, I know how difficult it is to work with people who suffer from memory loss because my mother is in such a condition. I find it difficult to be with her for more than 30 minutes a year. The second reason is that I myself often forget what I ate for breakfast and the names of those I live with.
During my morning walks to get in shape for the December 5-7, 2006, Melabev walk-a-thon (a term that would probably make Henry die again), I imagine myself, several years hence, enjoying the services of Melabev. Dance therapy will help me remember my right hand from my left, up from down. Melabev-developed computer programs will help me remember how to spell "Cleveland."
I am not a fund raiser by nature, so to raise $1,000 from friends and family to support my participation in the walk-a-thon does not come easy. Asking people for money is definitely outside my comfort zone, but so is walking 17 or 25 kilometers for two or three consecutive days. I have learned that if I can do one, I can do the other.
One of the wonderful things about the Melabev walk-a-thon is that you don't have to be a walker. There is always a 4x4 transport in the next wadi, one cellular phone call away, waiting to pick you up if your knees collapse or your toes bolt. The camaraderie is contagious, the humor continuous, and the views magnificent. One may not discover wildness, as Thoreau preached, but one does have adventures.
In the first three-day Melabev walk-a-thon in 2004, having never walked more than a day at a time, I chose the safe one-day option. I enjoyed it so much that in 2005, I signed up for the entire three-day hike from Dan to the Sea of Galilee. I think I did the whole thing, but I can't remember for sure.
Henry David Thoreau would never join me on a walk-a-thon. It is not his style. How awful, I hear Henry kvetch, "Group, trail, guide. Fooyah. In wildness is the preservation of the world."
But Henry, this is Israel, where we are all responsible for each other, I protest to my deceased friend. We are a community, a concept you abhor. I did too, as an American teenager. In fact, the more I think about you, Henry, the more I realize I have outgrown you and your exaggerated sense of freedom, all that wild west space luring you to wander, meander, saunter, and walk. I still love your prose, though. In fact, you have one sentence in "Walking" that still causes me to halt, as an ibex stops on a cragged ledge to survey the majesty of the Dead Sea. This is the sentence: "I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows."
You wooed me with language, Henry. I was young, but I am older now, no longer an American who believes in rugged individualism, but a player in the theater of the Jewish People. My new love is Azarya Alon. He believes in the trail, and the signs, and the daylight in which capers bloom.
Whenever doctors say to take a walk, first I think of you, my old boyfriend. Then I sit down and read. Then I sit down more and write. Only the idea of walking for tzedaka finally gets me out of the house.
For more information on the Melabev Walk-a-thon,
call (02) 993-4269 or e-mail: [email protected]