I’ve recently become enamored of the BBC crime drama Luther, starring Idris Elba (Stringer Bell from David Simon’s The Wire, and another in a long line of Brits pretending to be Americans and fooling us all. Andrew Lincoln, are you listening?) The series, now streaming on Netflix, is beautifully photographed, deftly plotted and brilliantly written. It’s also emotionally gut-wrenching, occasionally gory, and borderline psycho in a Silence of the Lambs kind of way. But what I’ve really zeroed in on lately is Luther’s sparsely-decorated bachelor pad. His bed is on the floor in the middle of the room. His windows have no curtains, allowing his psychopathic, part-time sidekick to peer in from a building across the alley. His closet appears to be a wheeled garment rack hung with perhaps three outfits, all in the same drab grey. I think he might have a microwave stashed somewhere, and a few teacups. In the four episodes I’ve watched, although Luther has slept a few times (and at least once with his ex-wife), he doesn’t appear to have ever changed his clothes. Strange to say that what his fictional apartment represents to me is actually a real vision of my retirement, minus the detective work. You won’t see me on the golf course or taking flying lessons in my old age. Probably all my wife and I will be able to afford is a one-room studio in some hip city somewhere, where we’ll keep our futon rolled up against the wall during the day, and where the kids, although we love them dearly, won’t be able to come home to roost for any extended period of time unless they bring a sleeping bag, a camping pad and a generous honorarium. Our virtual urban cabin will be close to the library, park, and gym, and within an easy drive of the forest and the ocean. What we will save on landscaping we will put into books, food, and wood-fired saunas. The blades of our green juicer will always be sharp.
A perfect vision of leisure. And I’m sure my wife wouldn’t mind if Mr. Elba was there to join us.
Although my eye feels better, my body has not been filled with light lately. An emotional healing process and all the pressures of daily modern life had taken their toll. As I set off on my walk, with Spiritualized’s muted, beautiful, new album on my headphones, it started to rain. I was planning a six-mile walk, and this was no way to begin. But I pulled up my hoodie, kept my had down, and after a few short minutes, the skies began to clear just enough, and I could see streaks of sun behind the grey clouds. I actually took my headphones off so I could hear the birds singing. Sometimes one walk can change everything. I am reminded this morning of a brochure I picked up in he lobby of the Adventist hospital where my son was born almost eight years ago. It was called “Walking: The Miracle Medicine.” It advocated walking as the best form of exercise, as well as a vegetarian diet, and abstaining from smoking, alcohol, and caffeine. There was a religious message as well, and although I do remember the word “God” used a few times, I can’t say the message was overly preachy. This small tract basically advocated living a pure life, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. I don’t know where that little pamphlet is today (I managed to keep it for at least a few years) but I am always reminded of its message whenever I go for a walk. Walking isn’t just good for the body. It’s good for the spirit. On a walk, you can let you mind off its leash. I started a book today called Eat Sleep Sit by Kaoru Nonomura. It’s about the author’s yearlong experience training as a Zen Buddhist monk at Japan’s most rigorous Zen temple, Eiheiji. founded by Dogen in the 13th century. His experience begins with a walk to the temple gates. After a meal and a night’s sleep, “I turned and looked back. Yes-that was where I’d stood so long the previous day…In the end I’d shed my sandals and crossed the threshold. The place was the same as yesterday, but I myself was changed. During the single night I’d spent behind that door, everything that had made me me had disappeared.” The person that leaves the house in the morning with raindrops falling on her head is not the same person that returns to the house two hours later with sunshine on her face. Likewise, the person that goes to sleep at night is not the same person that wakes up in the morning . This process continues our entire life. In fact, it is our entire life. Thankfully.
No, it’s not the prequel to the Eminem movie. It’s time to simplify. I tried a vegan diet for one month, to mixed results. Despite the predictions I had read in various books and websites, I did not miraculously lose weight or start glowing by giving up all animal products. In fact, I got fatter. Maybe this was because I overcompensated for my non-violent piety by eating tons of dark chocolate (vegan) and drinking lots of beer and red wine (also vegan). I took Omega-3 pills and B-12 supplements, but I was still tired all the time. I also lost my motivation to exercise. Maybe I thought if I just gave up milk, meat, and cheese, I’d suddenly lose 20 pounds just by walking back and forth from my car to my front door each morning and evening. This is not to say that my little experiment didn’t have its benefits. I discovered sauteed collard greens, Earth Balance butter, and red beans and rice. I learned all about factory farms and how our food is made by reading books like Gristle, Ominvore’s Dilemma, The Jungle Effect, Food Rules, and watching films like Food Inc. and King Corn. My wife and I decided to buy a farm share again, and I found a local farm that sells fresh vegetables and makes its own Maine maple syrup just a few miles from my home. I learned that cows were never meant to eat corn, and that’s why there is so much e.coli in the world. That most of the antibiotics in this country are given to healthy farm animals on industrial feed lots to overcompensate for crowded, unsanitary conditions. My vegan month was an eye-opening experience, and it’s true that once you know something, you can’t unknow it. I’ll never eat at McDonald’s again unless I’m on the verge of starvation. I don’t miss meat, but I also know that I probably haven’t had my last cheeseburger. I certainly haven’t had my last Greek yogurt. But if I do have a cheeseburger again one day, I’ll try to make sure the beef was grass-fed and came from a small organic family farm. Do I feel like a failure? A little. But I can live with that. We are all evolving. We are hopefully becoming more moral, more just, more forgiving, more loving, more compassionate, more generous. So I bow down to the vegan gods, and Alicia Silverstone, for forgiveness. I’m not a Superhero yet. Maybe someday. For now, I need to simplify. The days are getting sunnier, longer, and warmer. Summer is close. I need to lose 20 pounds, and I am going to do that by walking six miles a day, swimming on my lunch break, doing the Hundred Push-Up challenge, and taking a day off once in awhile, maybe every Monday. Now I’m going to go get a slice of Buffalo chicken pizza….
The New York Times has been running an excellent series on their web page entitled One in 8 Million. One of their recent posts really spoke to me, suggesting a type of existence that I long for. It tells the story of a 30-year-old waitress named Maggie Nesciur, who walks up to 90 miles per week around the neighborhoods of New York City. She has never owned a pair of sneakers, and instead does all her walking in either cowboy or motorcycle boots. She says, “I don’t walk fast; I don’t walk slow; I walk at my own speed. I have to keep moving. If I’m not moving, my mind isn’t moving much either.” Well said. You can watch and listen to her story here.
My son was born in an Adventist hospital in Maine. In the lobby of the hospital, there was a spinner containing a wide array of pamphlets. I passed over the ones with an overt religious theme, but one in particular caught my eye. It was entitled “Walking: The Miracle Medicine.” Now, when I was younger, single, and childless, going to the gym was a big part of my life. Sometimes, I would even do what we used call in football practice “double sessions,” meaning on some days I would visit the gym twice a day. Now don’t get me wrong. I highly value physical fitness, but when you have children, double sessions at the gym are a thing of the past. So now, I try to swim on my lunch breaks at work, and walk at least four miles a day. Lately I’ve started to understand the truth behind the phrase that walking is indeed the miracle medicine. You can read Thoreau’s complete essay on walking here.
When a friend suggested to Henry that he take the train from his home in Concord to Fitchburg to see the sights, Henry calculated that it would be better to walk the thirty miles than to spend his time working to earn the train fare. So often, we spend our time working to earn our fare, when we should instead be lacing up our hiking shoes and stepping out onto the open road.