The Steps We Take

On Sunday October 25, the day on which a dear friend died suddenly aged 58, I took 13,737 steps -- beating my target of 13,171 by 566.

I know this because the device I wear strapped to my wrist told me so. The following day, moving through a fog of grief, I took 16,737 steps. On the Tuesday evening, I flew across the Atlantic to London for David's funeral -- but still managed 14,346 steps.

On Wednesday, the day of the funeral, I missed my target, taking only 11,790 steps -- but I recouped on Thursday with 21,924 when I walked around London for a few hours trying to make sense of what had happened. On Friday, I flew home, spending most of the day on a plane, and took only 9,074 steps.

In all, in the terrible week of David's death -- a week of deep sorrow and pointless fury aimed at a God I do not believe exists -- I took 94,910 steps, just beating the target assigned to me by the device by 195. In pedometer terms, it was a good week.

I have become absurdly attentive to this silly device, obsessively measuring the statistics it generates. I have taken to leaving my car at the far end of the parking lot at the station every day so as to get an extra 80 steps in on the way to my morning train. I always take the stairs, never the elevator. When the red light on the device comes on, telling me that I have been sedentary for a couple of hours, I leap to my feet and do three or four circuits of the office until the light goes off, telling me it's safe to sit down again.

The other day, when it didn't sync properly, I was thrown into a minor panic. Fortunately, the problem resolved without me losing a precious day's worth of statistics. Although I know this is ridiculous, I've started evaluating my day as good or bad based on how many steps I take.

This is the first year I have had this device. Barring accidents or other unexpected disasters, I'm likely to have put one step in front of another roughly 4.5 million times by the end of this year which seems pretty amazing. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I equate meeting the daily target with virtue -- as if I will reap a reward for my diligence. Some part of my foolish brain has come to believe, or the device has caused me to believe, that obeying the commandment to take a certain number of steps will make me healthier, make me happier and grant me a longer life.

Of course, I know intellectually that this is a total illusion. David was felled by a heart attack that came out of the blue. He'd run several marathons and spent every summer scaling peaks on long-distance treks in the Pyrenees and the Alps. There is no magic formula -- or spell or prayer or incantation -- that assures us of health and happiness, much less long life.

It's good to be active and to keep fit and to stay healthy. These are true blessings -- but adding up the steps one takes is not the same as adding up the life one lives. We are measured not by our steps -- which ultimately, sooner or later, lead us all to the same place -- but by what we do in the world. As the tributes and obituaries that followed David's death made clear, what counts is the way we treat others, especially our family and friends, and the difference we make in the world through our work.

David packed at least 90 years worth work and love into his 58 years of life and left behind a rich legacy. I'm going to try my humble best to be a useful voice for what I perceive to be good on the issues I care about -- and to be a good husband, father, friend and colleague.

In the week after David died, I walked 90,771 steps. I hope they took me somewhere that was worth going.