If you want to view the world in a new light, try this simple trick: grab your iPod and your favorite pair of walking shoes, suit up for the cold if necessary, and hit the streets or head to the nearest park. Walk, don’t run. Once you get to someplace where you can walk freely, without holding others up or running them down, put that iPod on shuffle and stand still for a moment. Listen. Wait to hear the pulse of the music.
Then walk to the beat.
Don’t let yourself move more quickly or more slowly than the music plays. Keep tempo exactly, putting one foot in front of the other with each new beat. If the music is much too slow, walk in double time—and if it’s much too fast, do the opposite. And as you do so, lift your eyes and look around you. Force yourself to dwell on things, notice things. Even if you’re walking in a place you come to every day, you will see things you’ve never seen before.
The music gives your steps a direction, a drive. It is as though everything around you opens up and waits for your arrival. As you reach each turn, each intersection, each statue or dog or bench or tree, it is as though you were meant to get there at exactly that moment. Everything takes on a new significance, a new meaning. You are walking with purpose.
This must be what dancing feels like.
I have friends who can dance beautifully—and I’m not talking about the kind of dancing that happens at college parties, either. I’m talking about real form, elegance, and poise; their movements are liquid art, passion, and music, all at the same time. As with most things I have no idea how to do, I admire this incredibly.
One of my dancing friends extraordinaire tells me that anyone can do it; I find a quiet satisfaction in continuing to prove her wrong. I say I lack coordination; she says I lack confidence. In truth it’s probably a combination of the two, but at the very least we can both agree that Dancing with the Stars is probably not in my immediate future.
I can, however, walk in a straight line—at least, most days—and because Cambridge and Boston are very walkable cities, that’s usually how I get around. The walk from my apartment to campus is about a mile, so that’s at least two miles a day, and most days involve at least one additional destination. My favorite walk is the one I take on Tuesday nights, when I walk from Boston Common to Copley Square and back in order to get and from a choir rehearsal. This is where the iPod really comes in handy.
The walk consists of three main sections: Boston Common, Boston Public Garden, and Comm(onwealth) Ave(nue). Each is beautiful and full of things to look at. First comes the Common, which is surrounded by city but breathes a quiet natural life of its own in the midst of all the bustle. The Common transitions gently into the Garden, where rotating displays of flowers are carefully planned to evoke the season and complement the nearby willow-flanked lagoon. Even in the winter, the Garden is a sight to see; when the pale lights along the pathway shine down upon freshly fallen snow and the frozen lagoon, the mood is positively Dickensian. Finally, there’s Comm Ave, which in the winter is lit by seeming miles of small white lights on every tree and in the spring is showered with pink petals from the same canopy, created by the trees that line both sides of the path. Beyond the trees are the rowhouses, each with its own distinctive windows and façade and (no doubt) storied past.
With the music playing in the background and my feet moving to the beat, everything has the potential to surprise and delight. Did that flock of birds know to take wing on cue with the crescendo in the violin sonata? Did that traffic light change along with the key? It begins to seem like everything happens for a reason, that everything is synchronized—that everything and everyone is listening to the music.
And in my own way, I’m dancing.
I’ve often thought that life ought to have a soundtrack. Maybe you’ve thought so, too. It sounds somewhat silly to say it out loud, and you may think I’ve listened to a little too much music, but there’s something about walking in the way I’ve described that frees my mind and allows me to achieve clarity in my thoughts. The distractions fall away, and the important issues rise to the top. It’s the same feeling I get when riding in an airplane that bursts through the clouds and into the sunlight after taking off in the rain below.
Life has a beat of its own, and sometimes I think that listening to music while walking simply allows me to tap into it. Music doesn’t change anything; it just changes how we see everything. And especially on days when I’m looking for a little meaning, I can always find some in the music.
I see the well-kept rowhouses and hear James Taylor sing “Up on the Roof” and think I can’t wait to have a house of my own. I see the tunnel of wintry white tree lights shining in the dark of night and hear Beirut sing “Scenic World” and think I have so much of the world to see and yet am so content to be right here right now. I see an older couple walking hand in hand and hear Tony Bennett sing “It Had to Be You” and think Of course I should have told her. I look up at the moon and hear Harry Nilsson sing “Remember” and think Life goes on…
And it does, you know?