My dad spent over four decades working as a doctor. Most of those years were spent in my hometown in Oregon. It’s a small town, and so my dad saw all sorts of people in his practice. But the life of an internist is not glamorous, and while my dad had a number of great stories when he was able to save someone’s life, usually his days consisted of seeing people with mundane problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Often, he had to talk to his patients about losing weight. “You just need to eat less and exercise more,” my dad would say.
“I’m trying,” the patient would often say back, “but it’s tough to get out there and exercise most days.”
“Okay,” my dad would say, “then here’s the plan to get you started with exercising. For this week, I want you to walk to the end of the driveway. You have to do that every single day this week.”
“But Doc,” the patient would often say, “that’s nothing.”
“No,” my dad would always reply, “nothing is what you’re doing right now.”
I mean, my dad and the one-liners.
But I’ve thought about this conversation many times over. My dad used to use it to motivate me as a kid. “Just do ONE math problem,” my dad would say to me before dinner, “and then you can stop for now. But you have to do one.”
When his patients would ask him what they were supposed to do after the first week, he’d tell them to spend the second week walking to the end of the street, and then the third week walking around the block, and then finally they could start walking around the neighborhood. But my dad never told them to just start taking 5-mile walks right off the bat.
Instead, he told his patients to start their exercise routine by walking to the end of the driveway.
It’s a great metaphor for life, really. And recently, I’ve been thinking about how it might apply to my life now.
A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with a group of my friends on a Friday night. They are close friends, and they know that I’ve struggled recently. I was crying (again, ugh!) and my friend Justin turned to me and said, “okay, we need to get you out of the house doing things.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Well you said your soccer team was playing tomorrow,” he said, “so tomorrow you’re going to get up, put on your shin guards, and play some soccer.”
“Okay,” I said. I wasn’t sure if I really felt like it.
“Then we can all take the kids to see a movie,” he said. “Also, we go rock climbing on Sundays with the kids, and you can join us.”
“I’m not sure if I can handle all of that,” I told him.
“I know everything is hard, but I think you’ll feel better if you keep moving,” he said. “Start with the soccer game.”
I did. Our team lost, but I ran hard and even managed to kick the ball a few times. Afterwards, I sat around in the sunshine with our rag-tag group of middle-aged soccer players. We all joked about our losing streak. I think I even smiled a few times.
It wasn’t a cure-all. I still had many moments of deep sadness over the next few weeks.
But it was a start. Over the next few days, and then weeks, I kept moving. I found a therapist. I made plans with friends. I wrote. I went on bike rides with Claire and got hot chocolate with Austin and danced with Tommy in the kitchen.
The grief remained, and it remains today.
But in those days – the worst ones in early March when I thought I couldn’t go on – I heard my dad’s voice:
“Walk to the end of the driveway.”