Life hasn’t looked or felt the same for a lot of us since mid-March when a pandemic took over everything mundane and routine. Most countries around the world set forth strict stay-at-home orders, with some allowing people to step outside once a day for a walk or a jog or a run. Just that: a walk, a jog or a run, constant movement, there’s no excuse to sit and take a breather or read a book, or enjoy the weather, the sense of urgency of the initial lockdown did not allow for that. Naturally, with everyone cooped up inside, a lot of people, especially those without balconies or lawns or any open spaces, returned to the basics. We started stepping out once a day to take a walk.
I have always enjoyed going for walks. Where I come from, the weather is unbearably hot for a very significant portion of the year: stepping out for a walk means submitting wholeheartedly to very dominant heat, humidity and sweat. My hack for that has always been walking around my house, playing some music on my iPod (yes, I still use one), taking rounds of the gallery, or the lawn, or whatever open space I can find. Movement is necessary for me, and it has to come coupled with music. It is a sacred time for me, I step away from whatever I am doing, I completely declutter my mind, I put some music on and I just move. It isn’t about exercise, most days I regularly work out, but my walks are a separate need for my mind, and not my body.
Sometimes while I walk, I daydream. The kind of music I am listening to leads the daydreaming. I flutter away to an idealistic world where all my ambitions have come to fruition, there is no need for feminists movements anymore, minorities are represented, the world is an equal and empathetic place, I have a great group of friends I am growing old with, I look great, I feel great and then I stop walking, slip off my headphones and come back to this deranged and mostly confusing life. Clearly, walking is a bit of a coping mechanism for me. So, factor in a stay-at-home order, being away from family and friends and the uncertain nature of a pandemic; yes, I have been walking a lot. I need it.
It would perhaps be too much of a generalisation to claim that everyone I know has been going out for walks. My two flat-mates have only been going out once a week for grocery runs, the risk of contracting covid-19 greatly outweighs the need for a walk for them. For me, it’s different.
I understand the need to be safe and socially distant right now. When I go out for walks, I make sure I avoid narrow spaces, crowded areas, anything that would be too close for comfort. But for me, walking only presents a small risk which I’m okay to take because I know that if I began to spend every single day inside my apartment, the risk faced by my mental health would be far greater.
The need to walk stems from the need to walk away from my thoughts that relate to whatever present situation I am in. The idea of it is like a bubble: I am protected, I am separated from my current reality, and I am in this bubble where my thoughts can drift whichever way they please, or I don’t have to think at all, but the idea is to just completely separate myself from the actual reality of my day. Of course, to some this might sound like an unproductive or unhealthy coping mechanism, but that’s not how it feels to me. Once I am back home from the walk, I feel recharged and reenergised to tackle whatever I needed to step away from, or, if not much is going on, to gingerly put myself back in the regular routine of the day.
The location of the walk doesn’t really matter to me, if I can pace in my gallery for 30 minutes back in Lahore, I can walk anywhere. It certainly helps that in Glasgow I have so much greenery that appeals to me: I have been walking in parks, I have been wandering around campus, I have been exploring some nooks and corners of the city, it’s been a fun activity. My Instagram story has a running tagline “Today in Hooran walks aimlessly”, and it’s been great to make that a special, quarantine thing. This one hour a day is the time I’m looking forward to the most, because it’s completely led by me, it’s for me, there’s no rules or guidance to the length or location, there’s no specific calories to burn, I can do whatever I want as long as I am walking.
The pandemic has made me see my walks slightly differently. I value them so much more now because of two considerations. First, I had never realised that just because I enjoy something as simple as walking, that doesn’t mean I will always have access to it. My environment and situation determine what I can and cannot do, therefore I have to learn to be more grateful to the pre-pandemic environment that was allowing me to walk whenever I wanted, narrow space or wide space, people close or far. I was missing out on gratitude for something as basic as walking because I thought of it as my right in a way. The world, I am learning, doesn’t owe us anything. We owe it a lot.
Secondly, walking is a reminder of privilege during a pandemic. People are sick, people are filing for unemployment, people are worried about rent, food, bills and I have the privilege to carry out my life and be able to take a fun hour out to walk with not a lot to worry about. I have always tried to be aware of privilege, but I am now more aware than ever, that even as a brown, Muslim woman, I walk my way through life with privilege on my shoulders and I have to be appreciative of that. I have to practice gratitude, I have to give back, I have to use my privilege for good.
If we return to a no-lockdown life soon, I will definitely still continue to take my walks, and take my daydream hour on most days since it was already a part of my life. The thing that’ll change perhaps is my perspective of the walk because, if nothing else, this pandemic has made me realise that we are not in control of much, an unseen virus can wreak havoc in the world, and we are at its mercy. If I am going out for a walk, feeling safe, feeling healthy, my iPod’s charged, Spotify is booming, I am in comfortable shoes, then I must realise how lucky, privileged, and happy I am just because I am able to walk.
[Hooran M. Khattak – she/her]
[Photo credit: R Pestarino/flickr.com]