I’d like to introduce you to Sheila. She’s my stunning, with it, white-haired, 88-year old next door neighbor. For nearly 19 years we’ve chatted across our decks, shared recipes, and great reads. Never one to dine at a bar, I’ve learned to enjoy the camaraderie that crops up with fellow diners—from Sheila.
I worried about Sheila when the Coronavirus stay-at-home order was issued. She’s not the stay-at-home type and still worked at a local travel agency five days a week.
So, I offered up this idea: Let’s take a walk.
Sheila reluctantly agreed. We met outside our garages at 2pm each day, starting small and gradually building up to nearly two leisurely miles. With my chemo treatments and arthritic hip, it turned out that our walking pace couldn’t have been more compatible. And our intimate conversations more engaging.
I scouted out routes to take in scenic water views, expensive real estate, and nature. So far we’ve seen sleeping swans, playful seals, ducks, and spectacular spring blossoms.
We’ve even created our own little game where we guess the price of houses for sale. Back at home I Google the real estate listing and we see who comes closest.
I lit up, after about three weeks of daily walks, when Sheila exclaimed, “I didn’t know what I was missing.”
Then this happened…
The weather forecast was ominous; extreme winds and possible hail. At 2pm the skies were dry, though we spotted a dark cloud in the distance.
“Let’s just do a few loops around the parking lot in case it starts to rain,” Sheila wisely suggested. “Great idea,” I replied, underestimating how quickly those black clouds would arrive.
Barely 10 minutes into our stroll, violent winds suddenly exploded and the skies pelted us with rain and hail. We cut through some trees for the quickest route home when the wind gusts grew downright fierce, strong enough that I feared they would blow Sheila down like the Three Little Pigs’ straw house.
As we fought the force of the wind, I saw Sheila gripping a light post, not moving.
Social distancing be damned, I thought and yelled, “Grab my arm, Sheila!” With her tight grip we pushed through the wind and exhaled with relief when we made it home.
My sense of responsibility for Sheila’s well being was enormous. Feeling thankful and relieved that all turned out well, I worried she might now be turned off to walking.
But, no. Sheila is the most resilient 88-year-old I know. Like the proverbial saying, get back on the horse, I was thrilled when the sun returned two days later and Sheila was outside her garage door at 2pm sharp, ready to go.
As we headed home from an especially glorious walk I beamed when Sheila said, “That was almost euphoric!”
Our daily walks remind me of the notion of Tend-and-Befriend. Shelley Taylor, UCLA psychology professor first coined this concept in 2000. When stress releases cortisol humans (and many animals) are wired to have a fight-or-flight response. But recent research has shown that women are slightly more apt than men to also have a pattern of connecting and caring for others.
While I didn’t expect to gain any benefit from our walks, by tending-and-befriending Sheila I was helping to reduce my stress—in addition to the stress release that comes from exercise and nature.
I couldn’t help but notice how much I looked forward to 2pm (now 9:30am that the weather is warmer). As a regular walker I never had a set time. I’d hem and haw throughout the day for the optimal moment to push myself out the door. Now, there were no decisions to be made. 2pm it was! I was astonished by how freeing this felt.
As you move through the Coronavirus crisis, I wonder how you might tend and befriend others? How might that help you? And what you are doing to stay active?
So, I’d say that especially during these Coronavirus times, it’s important to reach out to help others to be more joyful and less stressed—and surprisingly, they may help us right back.
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