“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
My mama left China and came to America in July 1993. She was the first person in her extended family to move out of her hometown, let alone the country.
Her parents thought she would come running home by the end of the year, but mama loved San Francisco. The city was her playground.
After she got off work, mama wandered the slanted streets of San Francisco by herself. She listened to jazz music on her Walkman and spent entire weekends walking up, down, and sideways. There was always something new to see, from jaw-dropping nude beaches to beautiful Victorian homes she could only afford in her dreams.
San Francisco. The city that mama called home in her early 20’s, her first time adulting on her own. The city where she found herself and met my daddy.
I am my mama’s son. I inherited her good looks, hopeless romanticism, and love for long walks. When I was a high school student, I walked home for 40 minutes even though I could have taken the air-conditioned school bus. In college, I got dolled up in business casual attire every morning and walked from my apartment on 26th Street to my internship on 5th Street.
I walk because it’s therapeutic. It helps me clear my mind. When my thoughts run wild, I go for a walk to slow things down.
I’ve been stressing myself out a lot lately. I graduated from college and have a great job lined up, but I still find reasons to be anxious. I ruminate about my past and fear the looming responsibilities that come with adulthood.
That’s why I went on a solo pilgrimage to San Francisco last week. I wanted to retrace my mama’s footsteps from 25 years ago and go for a long, long walk.
My flight landed at 8:00 in the morning. I hopped on the subway to the city and began my scenic 7.5-mile stroll to the Golden Gate bridge. I stopped to eat a clam chowder bread bowl, watch street performers, and high five strangers on rental bikes.
I loved playing tourist and exploring the city, but more importantly, the walk helped me put my wandering mind to rest.
For the first time in days, I didn’t have the mental capacity to overthink because I had more beautiful things to focus on.
The ocean breeze kissed my cheeks and the fog carried my feet. Ancient buildings welcomed me with open arms and sat me down for storytime. My feet ached, but the vibrating train tracks massaged my toes every time a cable car or bus rumbled past. Colors were brighter and the air tasted sweeter.
The gnawing thoughts returned, but they were much easier to process. My fears and worries seemed tiny in comparison to all that was right in the world. I let these thoughts pass through and dissipate without feeling overwhelmed.
Even though the Golden Gate Bridge was miles away, the walk itself was full of beautiful surprises and sensations. When I finally arrived, it felt like no time had passed at all.
These long walks remind me that the journey is more important than the destination, even if I don’t have total control over the journey. It’s so liberating to get out of my own head and seize the moment for what it truly is. I live in a big, beautiful world flowing with sweet serendipity, and if I make too many plans or stress over every single detail, I’ll miss out on the good stuff.
Next time your thoughts get too crowded, go for a walk. Pay attention to where you are and how far you’ve come. You might like what you see.
Mama was about the same age as I am now when she traveled across the ocean to start a new life in a foreign land. She hardly spoke English and her life was full of uncertainty, but she kept walking. With a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, mama finally got to where she wanted to be. I think I’ll get there one day, too. After all, I’m my mama’s son.