It started with moms Paula and Beth. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, they started walking. Outdoors was still safe, right? So why not get off the sofa and get outside? They invited other mom friends, including me — keeping the group under 10 people. And soon, our daily 3.5 mile walk through Knollwood and Wiltondale in Towson became a “can’t miss” appointment in our barren social calendars. But it was much more therapeutic than just exercise and socialization.
These walks with my friends over the last 16 months saved my mental health during the pandemic. Old friendships were strengthened, and new friendships were made. A rotating group of women joined in, but the regulars quickly became a lifeline — Paula, Beth, Sue (and her dog Crosby), Sonia and Jena.
We’d meet each afternoon at 4 p.m. at the corner of Knollwood Road and Weatherbee. I was usually running to catch up, having just finished a work meeting or call. The laptop and the workload were always waiting when I got back home.
Our small group spread out in the street being mindful of distancing, donned our masks and started walking. Down Weatherbee, across the bridge and trail into Wiltondale, near the pool. Left, right, right again, another left, past the main entrance to Towson High School, right, left, right, right and end at Beth’s house. One time we tried in it reverse and got completely turned around. We braved heat, rain and snow. We relished those random perfect weather days of sunny skies and mild temperatures. Some of us walked in flip-flops, and others wore out several pairs of sneakers.
In the 75 minutes it took us to walk our route, we’d discuss a lengthy list of topics. At first it was “getting to know you” chatter. Where do you live? Where do you work? How old are your kids? Which friends do we have in common? As the weeks passed, the conversation deepened. We shared our fears and concerns about the pandemic and our struggles to manage working at home and helping our children through virtual school. The angst of how to see extended family who don’t live in our households and close friends — and if we should see them at all. Seeing each other through COVID exposures. No one knowing how bad it would get or when it would end. We all recognized and felt grateful for the extreme privilege we have with safe housing, food, health insurance, jobs that prioritized our health and safety, and the ability to keep ourselves and our families healthy.
There was lighthearted conversation, too. We talked about take out restaurants, where we felt safe grocery shopping, TV shows, movies and books, puzzles we were putting together, safe places for outdoor activities. And once a week on Thursdays, other mom friends joined us for what we called the Knollwood Booze Cruise, a late afternoon walk to downtown Towson for a to-go adult beverage. Pam at Charles Village Pub makes great crushes.
Once we were all fully vaccinated, we timidly took off the masks and walked closer together.
As the world has begun to reopen, our walks have become more sporadic. Those of us who were mandatory teleworkers have transitioned back to our offices or will be soon. Summer swim team is in full swing, as are day camps, sports practices and vacations — activities I have missed and am grateful to be resuming. But I miss our walks and that dedicated daily time to step away from the computer, the news, the doom and gloom. That time to connect with women I truly admire, value and love. Their sympathetic ears, advice, humor and commiseration kept me sane. These daily walks gave me a purpose separate from my work and family. Something just for me.
Now I take solo walks, mostly on weekend mornings; still the same 3.5 mile loop. Sometimes I listen to music, but mostly I use the time to think about my friends, what our walks and their presence have meant. It really is indescribable. I will never forget the COVID-19 pandemic for many, many reasons, but I have especially come to value the opportunity it provided to truly feel like part of a community, to balance work with daily self-care, and to nurture relationships that will be part of my life for years to come. Truly a COVID silver lining.
Becky Ceraul is the assistant dean of communications and marketing at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. She can be reached at email@example.com.