A few years ago I read a list of tips for keeping our minds active as we age and possibly even staving off dementia, Alzheimer’s, and those darn kids who won’t get off your lawn. One of the tips was this: take a different route to work each day.
It intrigued me and for a few days I did try it—at least as I was walking to work. My wife does most of the driving when we’re going to work together and I couldn’t convince her to go off the beaten interstate. It’s even harder when taking public transportation to get a bus driver to change routes except in those rare instances when there’s a substitute driver who isn’t entirely sure of the route. And if I ever commuted by train I’d have to take some pretty extreme measures to get off the beaten track.
I also pretty quickly slipped into walking the same old route I’d gotten used to every day, mainly because it was the easiest and quickest. Like water I always take the best possible path downhill, which is why whenever I schedule a lunch with water and water doesn’t show up it’ll be very apologetic later, saying, “Oh, yeah, I couldn’t get there because it was uphill” but that’s another story.
And I realized something about my daily commute. It’s never really the same. Even if it’s the same path all it takes is being conscious of the differences. There are subtle changes: the light or weather is different. Sometimes it’s dry, sometimes it’s raining. Sometimes I see the sun in the east and once in a while I see it in the west and that’s when I realize I’m running really, really, really late. There are not so subtle differences too. I pass different people. One morning I passed a couple of squirrels fighting over a pile of peanuts. Why someone dumped a handful of peanuts right in the middle of the sidewalk is still a mystery to me, and it was a carefully arranged pile that made it look like it had been done deliberately. I stopped and separated the peanuts into two equal piles about five feet apart. Then I stepped back. Each squirrel went to the pile that was closest to it and took the peanuts then ran off in opposite directions.
There’s a lesson in that, I thought. Life would be so much easier if we were like the squirrels, only I’m afraid of heights and I think I’d be miserable living in a tree. On the other hand I’m sure living in a constant state of terror would be a good way to keep my mind active.