Now that I’ve reached the ripe old age of 84, my life has become pretty much of a habit, at least my mornings. Each day, regardless of the weather, I rise, brush my teeth, dress in slacks and a button-down shirt. I go to the kitchen where I pour myself a bit of orange juice to wash down the few medicines my cardiologist insists I take. I eat modestly, an English muffin, perhaps, or a small bowl of cereal with perhaps a bit of fruit if I’ve remembered to buy any on my daily walk to the grocery.
I walk to the grocery as I walk everywhere else I wish to go. I chose an apartment near Lincoln Park for that very reason. The parameters were first that I could afford it on my modest pension and social security. Then it had to be within walking distance of a park, a grocery, a coffee shop, although by now I drink little coffee. I still like to frequent one occasionally for the positive vibrations they seem to provide for visitors.
Walking has become my exercise of choice. Actually, it has become my activity of choice. Whenever I face a question about what to do next, I invariably take a walk, winter, spring, summer or fall. Sunshine or rain. I don’t melt in either heat or freeze in cold, and I just feel so much better when I move. I think I’ve adopted the motto or “Move till you drop.” Seems like a good idea to me.
Speaking of dropping, I don’t have a goal in mind, long or short, but I have no fear of death. It could happen today, tomorrow, or a long time down the road. I don’t care as long as I can feel good and go for walks where I can breathe relatively fresh air and see people going about their daily activities. I especially like to go to the park and watch children play. It helps me remember my own kids, watching them grow, move on.
So, on a usual morning, after I’ve taken care of my personal habits in my apartment, I go for a walk. In my younger days I used to wear one of those trackers that kept track of the number of steps, flights of stairs, heart rate, and more that I didn’t really care about. All a bunch of numbers. Interesting, perhaps. But after a few years I knew how much exercise I needed. So, I quit wearing the tracker.
Now I just go. I have several routes that I can choose from, but frequently I don’t really choose, but just start in and see where I end up. I get frequent surprises and that’s a good thing. I’ve also realized that if I knew when I started that I’d end up several miles from home, I probably wouldn’t begin. Better to just go. But always, I end up in Lincoln Park. I walk through the park, but almost always end up on a bench that overlooks a large open space where people seem to like to gather and children seem to like to play.
That’s my favorite part of my routine. I watch. I also invent stories for the people. When you engage in a routine daily, people become familiar to you, by physical presence and action. I see people I’ve seen daily for years. I see children grow. I see lovers meet and marry. I don’t really know any of them, but in my mind, I know all of them. I know their relationships. I know their trials, their joys. I know their dreams and see them realized. I know their setbacks and see them overcome.
It’s a delightful part of my day that I carry with me when I return to my apartment. It gets me through the times of my day when I’m alone. It helps me not be lonely in my aloneness.
After my walk and my story invention time in the park, I return to my apartment and begin my quest for new and exciting dinner possibilities. I wouldn’t say that I’m a chef, but I enjoy at least one good meal a day and since I can’t really afford to eat at a restaurant more than once a week, I try to think of creative ways to fix food for myself. It is a challenge but one that I enjoy. At least once a week I visit a nearby branch of the library and check out a new cookbook to peruse. I learn a lot from those books and try to adapt recipes for one old man on a limited budget. A challenge, to be sure.
In the afternoon, I make a list of dinner ingredients and make my way to the grocery. What I end up with will depend on availability and cost, but grocery shopping is always an adventure that gives me great joy.
Returning to my apartment, I prepare my meal. This is my main meal of the day, and I try to eat it early enough in the evening so I never retire on a full stomach, which results in a poor night’s sleep. I also try to cook just enough to have a bit of leftover food for my lunch the following day. I find I sometimes enjoy the meal the second day more than when freshly prepared. More flavor or something, I don’t know.
In the evening of each day, I rest. I used to read a lot in the evening, but my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, so I will sit and dream. I think of my wife all day long, but especially at this time. It’s the time we used to enjoy each other’s company, review the day, perhaps watch a bit of television, or just sit enjoying a bit of wine. I miss that more than anything. I often wish I could go back and do that part of life all over. Though she’s been gone for years, she isn’t really gone at all. She’s still in my mind. But I’d still like to touch her, to hold her hand, to kiss her.
For a bit of each evening I will also apply a bit of paint to a small canvas set up on a table top easel. Nothing masterful, but enjoyable, applying color, smearing it around, no particular vision to recreate, but just seeing what happens when. I equate it to finger painting as a child. The texture, the feel, the sense of wonder as something that never existed before is suddenly revealed. I like that.
Then my day ends with a warm bath before getting in bed. There are no alarms to set as in my youth, but I find I awaken by six anyway, to begin the routine again. It varies slightly, day to day, because I don’t always know where my walk will take me or how long I might be gone. In the winter time there aren’t as many people in the park and it’s harder to stay longer in the cold. My financial resources may fluctuate from month to month, so my grocery shopping may vary as may the time needed to prepare food.