Sometimes love sneaks up on you. Suddenly, everything shifts. You start to rethink everything you’ve thought or known. This kind of love recently snuck up on me, too. In the throes of a pandemic, I fell in love—with walking.

This may seem like a bizarre declaration, yet it’s true nonetheless. This past year has been rife with infection and insurrection. But amid the chaos, I’ve managed to find glimmers of hope. Stuck at home, I’ve tried to find comfort in the little things: the way the light shines softly through my window in the morning, the distinct percussion of my 16–year–old brother stomping down the stairs, the acute heartache that comes with missing friends, the warmth of my parents’ hands, and the feeling of snuggling under the covers after a long day.

It’s not that I haven’t noticed these things before. The uncertainty of the past year has made me more grateful for everything in my life, particularly the simple things. I’ve spent so much—perhaps even too much—time with myself. The seemingly never–ending global turmoil, coupled with my introspection–induced existential dread, has made me antsy.  

I’ve turned to walking as an escape of sorts. “Sanity walks," as I call them. I wander around my neighborhood, discovering roads, routes, trees, houses that I’ve never seen before or maybe just never really noticed. Before quarantine hit, I never viewed walking as a leisurely activity; it’s been a chore, a means to an end. Why walk if you don’t know where you’re going? Why bother if you don’t have a destination? 

It also doesn’t help that I’m 5–foot–3, which means that walking can be comically stressful. I trail behind my long–legged friends and family members, often breaking into a light jog in order to keep up.  

Ironically, it was my 5–foot–8 mom who got me into these “sanity walks.”  She started going on them last March. In the morning, she’d come downstairs dressed head to toe in workout gear, plug in her headphones, smile at me, and say, “Alright, I’ll be back in about an hour.”  I admired how devoted she was—and still is—to this ritual, and how comfortable she felt spending time alone. When she’d get home, her face would be flushed and her eyes, bright. Eventually, she convinced me to join her. And when we couldn’t go together, I started to walk alone.

I noticed I have this unconscious habit of looking down as I walk, watching my feet or the road underneath me. I’m usually lost in my thoughts in those moments—and those thoughts can be cyclical and overwhelming. I hate it when that happens—when I go for a walk to clear my mind yet end up spending the entire time trapped in it. 

In those moments, I remind myself to look up at the sky in its endless and expansive glory. Looking out into the universe makes me feel small and insignificant. But that is humbling, refreshing, and grounding.

I’m not the only one who has taken up walking as a coping mechanism over the course of the pandemic. For many, the experience of quarantine has been suffocating, with life right now devoid of the spontaneity or freedom that we enjoyed in the past. In a way, walking allows us to taste what we’ve been missing: possibility. Where will I go? What will I see? Who will I meet? 

We may not be able to go to concerts, sporting events, birthday celebrations, or frat parties—but we can still wander, and let our minds do the same.  

This past year has sucked. Walking has made it suck a little less.