Walking is “an ancient act evolved over millions of years and is deeply integral to our sense of belonging, both physically and psychologically.”
So says AERO member and author Antonia Malchik near the start of her insightful book A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom. Weaving together scientific research and carefully curated anecdotes, Malchik guides us to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human, and the central role walking plays in making us so.
Malchik took her time gathering her research and crafting this book, and the result is thoughtful, honest, caring and compassionate. A valuable read at any time, A Walking Life is particularly impactful in these post-pandemic riddled, politically divisive times.
Human beings are made to walk. It is central to our physical, emotional and psychological development. It also is the means by which we come together and form the fabric that defines a neighborhood and community, woven over years “of face-to-face contact on a regular basis – on the sidewalk, and in the daily organic activities of work, life, child-rearing, food, education, leisure.” It turns out that we have a biological need to connect with one another and “crave real, visceral, touchable” experiences.
And yet, for many decades now, as individuals, communities and countries, we continue to make choices that move us away from walking and to a more sedentary, car-centric life that lacks connection, all to our detriment. Some of these choices are obvious, others are more subtle, though no less impactful. Still others can be hard to read. Particularly eye-opening for this reader was appreciating the structural racism explicit in the design and implementation of at least our early highway systems, and the consistent choices of which neighborhoods and communities to eliminate.
AERO members will appreciate the hope and possibility A Walking Life offers. Malchik provides this both with suggestions for making different choices today, and through her interviews with individuals who undertook “big walks”, many through areas of conflict in different parts of the world. To a person, they came away knowing the inherent goodness and caring of people.
Towards the end of her book, remarking on the history of humans’ footprints on the earth, Malchik notes: “Paths are shaped by those who walk them.” As A Walking Life demonstrates convincingly, people and communities are shaped by the paths they walk.