Walking has been a theme of my life. Whenever members of our family had something to discuss, one would say, "Let's take a walk." Walks also have been my alone time — to problem-solve, rehearse, fantasize and just to "be." When I was a little girl in Detroit, a neighbor told my mother that she saw me each morning from her window, walking to school with "my mouth going a mile a minute."
Years later, when I came to California with my husband and two older children, I realized with joy that I could walk outside every day of the year — and I have, for almost 35 years.
Every now and then, people ask me if they can walk with me. My answer is always, "Sorry, but my walking is my alone time." Whatever my mood when I set out, I always return home feeling more grounded and at peace.
I've lived in three neighborhoods in Los Angeles. When my husband and I ended our long marriage, I moved to a place near the ocean. Then, several years later, I moved inland to live near my elderly mother. In each neighborhood, I developed a new walk, and with each move I mourned the loss of my old walk until I found a new one to love. These days, I walk up and down a steep hill — on one side there's a beautiful view of the ocean and on the other a magnificent view of the city.
After my divorce, I dated a little and had one "fling." I told myself that no life has everything; maybe I just wasn't going to have a true love. At the age of 53, I decided to go back to school to become a marriage and family therapist. I had been a high school English teacher and had raised four children, and then discovered a new passion. I felt content with my new career, my children and grandchildren, friends, interests — and always my walking. And the years went by.
When friends asked me, "Why don't you get out there and meet someone?" I began to answer, "If a man is going to come into my life at this time, he's going to have to drop out of the sky and be pretty darn perfect."
One day, almost three years ago, at the age of 69, as I reached the top of the hill — about as close to the sky as you can get around here — I heard a deep, unfamiliar voice say, "You look fit. Do you walk every day?" I turned and saw a good-looking man I had never seen before. He asked if he could walk down the hill with me, and I replied: "Well, walking is usually my alone time, but just this once … OK." By the time we reached the bottom, I knew I wanted to walk with this man again.
Michael and I started walking together every day. I heard his life story; he heard mine. When I learned that he had had a long, loving marriage and had cared for his ill wife for many years, I assumed that the last thing he wanted was an older woman — and I was a few years older. I resigned myself to being his friend.
One day, he told me that his daughter had decided it was time for him to meet a woman and had put his profile on JDate.com. A few weeks later, he reported, "I guess I'm just too choosy." I said, "Yes, that's why I'm alone too."
Then one morning, as we started up the hill, I told him I was an Obama supporter and tended toward being a liberal Democrat. I added, "But I'm not liberal in everything; I'm traditional in one way." In what way? he asked, and I answered, "Well, with men" — I remember chuckling to myself, "as if I've had a ton of men!" I went on, "I don't call men, I don't pursue them or court them; if they're interested, they have to come after me."
Michael never stops when he walks — in fact, one of his pet peeves about me is that when I want to make a point, I stop. But at that moment, he stopped short, looked at me and said, "So, has that been the problem?" I asked, "What do you mean?" He answered, "Are you interested in me?" And I said, "I guess I could be — but are you interested in me?"
By this time, my heart was racing, my head was hot, things were becoming an exciting blur — but I believe he answered something like, "You bet I am."
And that was that. Our first date was, of course, a walk — he introduced me to one of his favorite walks in the marina.
Michael and I still walk together every day. But now, instead of saying "goodbye" at a corner near my home, we hold hands and walk home together.
Shell is a marriage and family therapist in West Los Angeles.