For the last seven months, my Saturday walks with two dear friends have trended in the wrong direction.

The exercise was appreciated. Seeing my friends was an essential moment of connection. However, the topics themselves squelched some of my joy.

Both of my friends are medical practitioners, and much of our walk was COVID-talk. How were they treating patients and managing personal risk? How is the COVID data trending? When they tired of the topic, we would sometimes veer into politics, which made COVID look like a party.

Two weeks ago, as we started our walk, I declared very matter-of-factly, “I can’t take a long conversation about COVID today. I also don’t want to discuss politics. Are you good with that?”

They immediately agreed. They might have even felt relief — as if we’d forgotten there were other places one could go.

I was prepared with a conversation starter, having tried it out on my kids hours earlier. I asked, “What is a saying of your parents that has stuck with you?” I added, “Maybe you’ve even repeated it to your children.”

The minute I conceived of this question, I knew what my response would be. My dad always said, “What goes around, comes around,” which was his version of “Do unto others…” but without using the words or Jesus. We were observant Jews.

I saw my dad practice this saying daily in his small grocery store. He would extend credit to people he barely knew, offer an ear for what seemed like forever and deliver groceries in the worst of storms. The buck stopped with him. Always.

My friends on the walk shared their memories. “Do your best. An angel can do no more,” said one.  She was an esteemed pediatrician so clearly her best was pretty good.

My other friend spends any free time convening with nature — hiking, lake swimming, bird watching. She recalled that her dad beseeched his daughters to, “Ask, ask, ask.”

At the age of 64, my friend wonders why she hadn’t asked more questions in college. Specifically, she loved botany but imagined that it meant living life in a lab so she chose to be a nurse practitioner. She has no regrets but had she asked that question… who knows?

I have since emailed this question to friends. Some of their responses are below:

Response 1:  If you tell one lie, you have to tell two.

This has humor and truth in one pithy sentence and encourages us to maintain our character. Based on my knowledge of this particular friend, I believe she has never told even one.

Response 2: Make your vocation your avocation.

This is shades of Robert Frost’s poem, “Two Tramps in Mudtime.” Adopters of this view believe we should do what we love.  My friend loved news from an early age and spent his life in journalism.

Response 3: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.

Clearly this was before social media took hold, and we lost the ability to self-govern.  This expression sounds so decent and wishful, but if we adhered to it today, we might all go mum.

Response 4: Lie down with the dogs. Get up with the fleas.

Said another way, be careful who you keep company with. As a dog lover, this expression does not speak to me. Lying down with my dogs is a favorite way to relax, and, knock-on-wood, no fleas yet.

Response 5:  Don’t waste worries.

My friend who is a worrier offered her father’s kind reminder not to worry. My father attended the same worry-not school. His expression went, “Half of the things we worry about never come to pass.” If I could only know which half. Both expressions affirm the need to fear not.

Response 6:  Yes, but what did you do?

This might not sound catchy but it reflects the wisdom of a mother listening to her child, and then seeking the other side of the story. It reinforces seeing the broader view and taking ownership of our actions which my friend has since used in parenting her children.

Response 7: You can do anything for 30 minutes.

My friend is an introvert and her mom wanted to encourage her to meet more people. “Go to the party,” she’d say. “You can do anything for 30 minutes.” She knew her daughter well and wanted to expand her circle. This advice has wide application for all.

Back to that walk you might have in store: If you too are seeking light, yet poignant conversation, consider asking the question, “What saying of your parents has stuck with you?”

When funny and meaningful go hand in hand, the walk goes from good to great.