It was the best advice regarding exercise I never took. But after nearly 10 years, I’m taking it now.
It had to be a decade back, or more. I published newspapers back then, back when there was still a future in the newspaper business as far as we knew.
It was one of those rare times in my life when just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Repeatedly. And from all sides. Employees were either combative or facing homelife troubles of their own. My wife was sick. My boss was mad. If I remember things correctly, the whole blippin’ world was spinning backwards.
So I’m sitting in this little Chinese buffet (it’s OK, they had fries, McNuggets and vanilla pudding), enjoying lunch with my pal Mickey. “Enjoy” might be too strong a term, since I didn’t get a chance to eat.
We’d just sat down in our booth and asked our waitress for sweet tea and keep ’em coming. Honestly, I don’t think I’d even started complaining about life, the universe and everything when what felt like a bolt of lightning shot across my chest and down my arm.
It was just for a second, but holy God it hurt.
Mickey, being the kind of guy he is, wouldn’t let me pass it off as indigestion. I understood his position, given that indigestion typically comes after you eat. So instead of vanilla pudding with Nilla wafers, I found myself at the doctor’s office being hooked into an EKG harness. Let me tell you, that’s an odd place to be when you’re in your mid-30s.
EKG results spooked the doc on call, and I was shuttled off to the local hospital for a fun-filled evening of concerned looks, er, observation. The next morning, those concerned looks had softened to puzzled looks, and I was sent down to take something called a cardiolite stress test.
Basically, they pumped me full of radioactive dye then put me on a treadmill for 20 minutes. Then, when they were sure I couldn’t take it anymore, they moved me to a machine that reminds me of a CT scanner. In a cardiolite test, the machine picks up the dye, pumping through my system, and is supposed to highlight areas of blockage.
There weren’t any.
There was nothing physically wrong with me, far as anyone could tell. The EKG result turned out to be a weird “inverted T wave,” which, they surmised, was induced by stress.
A few days later, I was back in front of the doctor who had arranged for my incarceration. I assumed I was there for a half-dozen bottles of pills and stern advice about pretending to give up bacon, popcorn and pretty much all that made life worth living.
Instead, he sat me down and told me to start walking.
“That’s it?” I asked.
“Yep. You need to walk.”
How far, I asked, would get the job done? One mile a day? Five miles? Or should I go by time – like they suggest on the Bowflex commercials? Thirty minutes every other morning?
The answer to each of my questions was a resounding no.
“Just walk,” he said. “You can stop when you’re done.”
Then he said it. “Let your feet be your chapel.
“Don’t set a time. Don’t set a pace. Don’t think about a distance. Don’t listen to the radio (there were no iPods). Don’t talk on the phone. Just walk.”
He went on to explain that whatever was causing my extreme stress could be worked out if I would just let it. And walking, alone, quiet, with only my thoughts and the Good Lord to keep me company, was his professional prescription.
“Let your feet be your chapel.”
I wish I’d listened back then. Maybe I wouldn’t be listening to him now.
I’ll be honest – most nights (when I feel like walking), I have my phone in my pocket and my Bose in my ear, chatting with somebody about something. But there are times when I know that I need to be alone with my thoughts, when I know that a quiet walk with the Lord is just what the good doctor ordered.
On those nights, it doesn’t matter how weak or winded I might feel, because I know I can go however far it might take.
All it takes is a willingness to walk, and listen, a willingness to let my feet be my chapel.
Fitbit® not invited.