One of my favourite hymns has this verse:
We are pilgrims on a journey,
and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.
When our ‘lockdown’ began I was aware that carrying all my extra weight meant that I was both unfit and possibly more vulnerable to the dreaded virus. Shortly afterwards, as I tried to avail myself of free yoga lessons online, free keep fit lessons on TV and ‘Dancercise with Emily’ on my mobile phone, I discovered that Facebook was suggesting that I joined a group walking 10,000 steps a day (about 5 miles) to raise money for the Mater Hospital. This seemed like a good idea – get walking for the hospital in the hope that you’d stay out of the hospital….. I signed up, sorted myself out with a cheap step counting watch (there are lovely expensive ones but mine was about 20 euros) and some less cheap comfy shoes and I was ready to go.
Rather worried that I wouldn’t manage it I started two weeks before D-Day and found that 10,000 steps is possible, although it is significantly more than I was used to walking. The month passed and I realized that I was enjoying the challenge, had huge respect for the people in the group who were walking and was (possibly) a bit fitter. Many of the people in the group were past or even present patients of the Mater, and their stories of survival and courage, the way that they got their steps in in the face of some really considerable health problems, and their cheery determination meant that my own puny willpower (feeling a bit tired, it’s a bit rainy, not in the mood) was given a bit of a shakeup and by the end of the month I had completed 10,000 steps a day. So the following month I did another walk, this time for Women’s Aid.
And the following month I was off again walking for DePaul Ireland, which is a charity for homeless people because I cannot imagine how appalling the current situation must be if you have no home, no easy access to running water, to a GP, to your own space. The month after that I was back walking for the Mater and this month my cause is Autism Assistance Dogs.
These are all wonderful charities, and it is an enormous privilege to be able to coerce my friends and family to give them money (which is after all what sponsored walking is) but it has also been a great source of joy for me.
I don’t walk fast, I often split the walk into two shorter walks, and sometimes I drive to a lovely spot like Balyalla Lake, and sometimes I walk around my home town Ennis from the front door. I take photos because you are supposed to provide evidence of your walking for your sponsors and this has made me so aware of the beauty of the changing seasons, the ever present company of the River Fergus wherever I walk, and the many lovely spots there are here. I feel so lucky to live here and enjoy the scenery and I feel so lucky to have the time and space to have this time to myself. I listen to podcasts on my phone – Desert Island Discs archive is fantastic, and Fergal Keane’s History of Ireland, have been wonderful – and I borrow audio books from the library via an app called Borrow Box. I put aside about an hour a day for the walking and that more or less covers it – give or take a bit of housework, gardening or popping to the shop.
I don’t have the nerve to ask my supportive friends and family for any more money for the charities for now, so next month I will start walking the virtual Camino of Santiago di Compostela – I am allowed to set my own timeframe and I will walk the distance locally here.
Next month however Barnardos are asking for people to get walking for them, and I do so recommend this to anyone who feels able to take this amount of time – it is a time of peace and journeying within, a time when you look at the world around you and pay attention to nature, a special time when you can feel lucky to be alive, or a time when you can think through those things that are weighing upon your mind. The RSA of Ireland will provide you with a free high visibility vest – a must if you are walking the country lanes – so if you like the sound of it, have a go. The charities benefit, but I have to admit I have loved it.
Dr. Susan O’Brien is the Ecumenical Director for Killaloe Diocese.
She is based in Binden Street, Ennis and is married to Rev. Kevin O’Brien, Church of Ireland Rector for the area.