The walker

walker-4I’ve seen her around the neighborhood a few times. A heavy-set woman in her late 60s or possibly early 70s. She wears a faded Blazers cap, loose-fitting dresses and athletic shoes. She uses a walker to get around.

I know she lives in a high-rise a few blocks from me, one of those places that takes in low-income and disabled residents. When I’ve run into her, she always says hi and makes a point of commenting on whichever dog I’m walking that day.

I don’t know her name, but I’m going to ask next time I see her.

Why the interest in this woman?

Well, it was a coincidence that in yesterday’s post I wrote about having logged a full month of daily exercise. When I came back from the gym, Otto and I were taking a short walk when the lady came ambling toward us. Once again, we exchanged hellos and a smile and continued on our separate ways.

I couldn’t help but think that as I age, I sure hope to keep at least as active as her. I have the luxury, for now, of excellent health and the means to belong to a health club just minutes away from home. If I so choose, I can run or bike, too.

This morning, I saw her again. Charlotte and I hit the streets before 6 a.m. and there she was, a block ahead, her back to me, pushing along her walker. This time, there was something different. She had a cloth grocery sack attached to the handlebars and stopped at a curbside recycling bin. She bent down, reached in, added a couple of cans and bottles to her sack, then resumed her walk. I paused to watch as she crossed the street and turned south in the direction of the high-rise.

In that moment, I saw the woman in a different light. Evidently, those walks aren’t just about exercise but also about sustenance. I admire her getting out and about in the fresh air — something my late mother resisted, when a simple walk would have done her so much good. But my heart broke just a little bit seeing that every nickel and dime matters to this woman.

Selfishly, it made me realize how fortunate I am, to be able to walk strictly for pleasure. More broadly, it made me think of one of this country’s most vexing challenges — income inequality.

So many of us take for granted the freedoms that come with having enough money to take care of our basic needs and still have some left over for dining out, entertainment or travel. And yet there are those who walk the streets while many of us are still asleep, quietly collecting cans and bottles to supplement their meager incomes.

Next time I see The Walker, I’m going to try to engage her in more than just a hello and how-are-you-doing.

Photograph: Dynamic Medical Equipment Centre

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