Like every other person in the world, my life has been drastically altered by the current Coronavirus pandemic. It’s spring of 2020, and we’re being told to basically avoid human contact to every extent possible until the virus has either died down or some form of vaccine is found. My small town, which is usually brimming with the signs of human life, has become markedly different. The streets and sidewalks that are usually filled with neighbors exchanging pleasantries are now largely void of activity. It’s a haunting thing, to walk outside on a beautiful spring day all alone. The signs of people are there: houses, stores, all the things we’ve built, but the people who built them are strangely absent.
At my house, we too are doing our part. My wife is cloistered away with the children, trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy amidst this unprecedented backdrop. My job isn’t one that can be done from home. My daily absence from the household probably makes me better able to recognize just how jittery the isolation has made my extroverted seven-year-old. Because of this, my daughter and I have made it a habit to take a walk around the neighborhood every afternoon. This is okay, we’re told, so long as we avoid breathing the same air as any other families who may also choose to take advantage of the spring weather to temporarily escape the prison of their domicile.
I’m thankful to live where I do right now. This “sacrifice” of socially distancing ourselves could be much worse. The house I live in has an ample yard that the kids can play in, and our neighborhood is spread out enough that our daily walks can be taken without danger of violating the spaces we’re told to maintain. I almost feel a twinge of guilt when I think of my fellow Americans living in urban locales right now. With no yard and small apartments to ride out this storm in, I can only imagine how much worse this must be for them. When I consider the many who have already lost loved ones, I’m even more struck by how relatively fortunate I am.
While I certainly realize how good I’ve got it, I confess that I feel a twinge of sadness when I take these walks every day. The weather is still there, as is the beautiful backdrop of the mountains we live in and around. But the people are missing, and it is the people who in fact make up the community. I miss the impromptu conversations, the stops to catch up on life or the chances to make new friends. I miss meeting new neighbors on an evening walk. That’s the charm of life in a small town, and it’s been ripped from us by the silent contagion in our midst.
Last night, my daughter and I were about halfway through our walk when we saw another father and his small son (who was perhaps about three years old) on a similar walk. We immediately captured the youngster’s attention because of the six-month old puppy my daughter was desperately holding back on a leash. Boone is a “golden-doodle”. He’s apparently some mixture between a golden retriever and a poodle; a testament to the fact that I’m obviously the solitary male in a house full of girls. While I’m fairly certain that Boone will never amount to much in terms of a hunting companion, I can see the appeal for children. He’s gold and fluffy. He looks like a large teddy bear, and I suppose I’d want to stop and pet him if I were three years old as well. The boy waved at us as we approached. As we came within conversation range, he started heading toward us with the obvious intent of meeting our fluffy canine companion. His dad stopped him and very patiently explained why he couldn’t. They kept a healthy distance across the street as he discussed the need to social distance.
“Remember the germ we talked about?”
The young boy recited back to him a well-rehearsed conversation about how it was dangerous to be near others that weren’t in his family right now, and then turned back to me. Standing safely across the street, he implored me to make sure we brought the puppy back when the germ was gone. I assured him that I would. Hid dad and I exchanged a knowing look about what unprecedented times we live in before we went our separate ways.
The simple interaction stuck with me. The part that struck me was the children. Nothing in my childhood came remotely close to the life-altering quality of the Covid pandemic, and it breaks my heart to my child’s (or someone else’s) altered to this extent. It’s a sad time when you can’t strike up a conversation and meet a neighbor’s new puppy, but it’s important to remember that this is a temporary situation. It will pass. I don’t know how long it will be, but the day will come when that man and I can shake hands, and his little boy can safely introduce himself to our dog. One day, at some point, neighbors will once again be able to be neighborly.
We’re probably all guilty, from time to time, of telling children a white lie just to get through a difficult moment. But I have every intention of following through. Whether he remembers it or not, I intend to make sure that little guy gets to meet the puppy one day. It’s important that he knows that day will come. Perhaps it’s even more important that I know that. The “new normal” we’re living in won’t last forever. Things will change, no doubt, but we’ll all be able to live our lives again one day. These are unprecedented times, but this too shall pass.