My partner and I like to run early in the mornings, often on the seawall that loops around Stanley Park here in our hometown of Vancouver. We are, by no means, the only ones who take advantage of this route, and over the years a cast of recognizable seawall buddies has developed, some of whom we talk to (the nice guy who looks like Ned Flanders) and some of whom we don’t (the women who walk the seawall in designer jeans and five inch heels).
Our favourite has always been Walking Lady, an elderly woman whom we would see walking around the seawall every morning, in rain or shine, darkness or light. Our initial interactions with her were always brief: just a quick “good morning” or a “beautiful day, isn’t it?” But over the years, our mid-run conversations got longer, starting 20 meters or so out and continuing on over our shoulders as we ran past. At some point, we can’t remember when, Walking Lady started ending our exchanges with “Lots of love boys,” and we would always run off buoyed by a genuine niceness you just don’t find much anymore.
A couple of years ago, we stopped seeing Walking Lady; and for about six months, she just never showed up on our runs. And then one day she reappeared, her recognizable blue coat moving towards us, but her gate noticeably slower. “Where have you been?” we asked as we approached. “Oh, I’ve been away for a while. But it’s so good to see you boys. Lots of love!” she replied with a smile. And as we ran along, we both acknowledged that she didn’t seem to be doing so well but also how noble it was that she was still out there walking.
The walking lady and the blue coat
For several more months, we’d see her on our runs, enjoying our usual exchanges, which had been augmented with a high five as we ran past. And just when we’d gotten used to seeing her each day, she was gone again.
Yesterday morning—on one of those bright and warming days that convinces you that Winter is truly over and reminds you how beautiful Vancouver can be—we came around a corner of the seawall, and there she was, in her same bright blue coat and with that same twinkle in her eyes, but her walk now transformed into more of a shuffle, and her warm smile now clearly distorted by a stroke. This time we stopped running as she held up her hand to give us a high five. “There you are!” we exclaimed. “How are you doing?” “Oh, I’m not so good,” she said; and after a pause, she then pointed to a bend in the seawall about 200 meters away and said, “I’m just going to make it to that point. That’s all I want to do. That’s all I need to do.” And as we each squeezed one of her hands I said, “And that’s what you will do. She smiled as best she could, squeezed our hands back and said “Lots of love boys.”
And as we both continued running through the silent residue of that moment, I knew to the core of my being that Walking Lady would make it to that point. No matter what life or age was throwing at her, she had the perseverance, the grit to get out of bed that morning and work towards a goal that had no significance to anyone but her. And that was enough to get her moving yesterday morning when, I would imagine, every muscle and nerve in her body was screaming at her not to.
Seeing Walking Lady walk towards that point reminded me of not only how crucial it is to have goals and the determination to work towards them, but also how important it is that some of those goals have meaning to no one but me: personal goals that would make me feel better about myself and, hopefully, make me a better me. She wasn’t walking towards that point for her family, for her doctors or for us. She was walking to that point for herself, and that was all the motivation she needed.