When I was younger, easy fitness options were abundant. I was strong and vibrant, and health clubs were affordable. There were 5-mile hikes for pleasure, and there was disco! Not that I took advantage of dancing for fitness and enjoyment as much as I would have liked. Work was always pressing, and time, in short supply.
Among other things, I was a distance walker, typically six days a week. My norm? Five miles. And if feeling inspired, I’d venture six or seven on the weekends. After, I’d feel tired, but energized.
Of course, I was single then. There was no husband to cook for, no babies to feed during the night, no postpartum pounds to whittle down, no exhaustion from being pulled in 19 directions, daily, with no end in sight.
In the 1980s, in the years before I married, I worked in a 16-story building of glass and steel. I loved the panoramic views of the large city just a few miles off, and in the opposite direction, suburban greenery. The pressures were plentiful, but I loved the job. Walking remained my daily companion, and swimming or tennis were options when I was able.
Aging? Are you kidding me? That was a distant inevitability.
Most days for lunch I would cross the street to a large mall that spanned two city blocks. The huge indoor space offered a variety of diversions: small restaurants and cafes, a typical food court with salads and burgers and pizza. There were designer boutiques and two department stores – ample distraction from the work day’s worries – the latest fashions to peruse, jewelry to admire, shoes to slip into (yes, hoping for a bargain).
I recall one of the managers I worked with – a cheerful man in his fifties, brimming with energy, who’d modified his routines following a heart attack. Rain or shine, every lunchtime, he changed out of his suit and into gym clothes and walking shoes. He crossed the street, and spent 30 minutes pounding the pavement, where there was none. He mall walked, length after length. Briskly. Intently. And long before any such thing was fashionable.
We do what we can
Yesterday after the drive to the high school, running two errands, checking email, morning writing – I was ready to crawl back into bed and stay there. My brain was weary from worries that are increasingly difficult to push away. My body felt like lead. My mood was plummeting with the ache in my arms and legs, and the physical sensation of weight. But then I remembered mall walking.
I plucked myself out of the bed where I had settled with my laptop. I popped a pill. I put on my makeup. I drove to the nearest mall – not far – and set my goal. Fifteen minutes, indoors, where there would be air conditioning, where I could sit if I needed to, where I would enjoy the distraction of faces, of flirty fashions in window displays, of life bustling around me.
I did not walk briskly, but I walked for 10 minutes, then knew I needed to slow for a bit. I wandered the cosmetic counters in Bloomingdale’s. Tried the latest Lancôme blush, the Dior lipsticks for fall, the Bobbi Brown eye shadows. Then I walked for another 10 minutes.
Lancôme for what ails me?
I admit I was drawn to a particular counter by the face of Julia Roberts. (It’s effective advertising, let’s be realistic.) And while I wouldn’t say that the right mascara or blush is enough to solve my problems, a friendly sales woman and colors to play in certainly don’t hurt.
How many weary mothers wouldn’t take solace in a small dose of dress-up? In hearkening back to days before the fatigue, the bills, the budget, the arguments, the tedium – and starting all over again the very next day?
The origin of the word “mall”
By the way, do you know the origin of the word mall?
Apparently, the word’s usage can be traced to 1737, meaning a broad promenade, a shaded area for walking. How lovely is that? What better place for easy fitness in a hectic world, rain or shine?
Of course I still hope for a return to distance walking and a life that supports it. But in the meantime, the ancillary delights of the mall are not to be discounted: the pleasure of a conversation at the fragrance counter, observing young mothers pushing their strollers, shaking my head at the ladies who lunch (and wondering what that must be like).
On my way out, I’m free to indulge in Lancôme on my cheeks and lashes, Dior on my lips, glittering powders on my fingertip and applied to my eyelids. This is a moment of well-being, however modest. A measure of leaving my worries behind, and greater willingness to then return, dutifully, to my search for answers, and for options.