My neighbourhood was surprisingly full for a weekday at 3:00 pm, full of people walking for no reason other than to walk since restaurants, cafes, salons and gathering places are all closed. I forced myself on this walk amid feelings of COVID-19 loss, uncertainty, and overwhelm, not expecting to encounter families, couples, single people, dogs, and so. many. joggers.
“This is new,” I thought, as I exchanged smiles and hellos with nearly everyone I passed. People weren’t heads-down in their phones or their thoughts like I’m accustomed to. I often walk in my neighbourhood and usually feel invisible and anonymous. Now, it seems we are more willing to connect across our social distance.
In a small shop, I put my items on the counter then stood behind a social-distancing line taped on the floor. A young man rang up and bagged my groceries, then stepped back. I stepped forward, put my cash on the counter, stepped back again so he could make change. We smiled at each other and chatted, acknowledging the awkwardness of this new normal. Then he reached toward me, my change in his hands. After a voiceless moment, his face fell, he put the change on the counter and stepped back. “Oh, geez,” he said, as if he had failed, “Even I couldn’t do it right.”
At another store, where most of the lights were off and I was the only customer, I chose a birthday card then browsed interesting small gift items. The man working there talked with me, answered my questions and pointed out some neat features. “Thank you for coming in,” he said as I paid, “it’s been quite quiet today.” It was the first time I remember feeling appreciated by a stranger simply for being.
Those businesses are struggling and the small amount I spent will not cover a day’s electricity or an hour’s wage. Yet a more important exchange occurred, an exchange of humanity.
When we are present, when we bear witness, when we do not divert our gaze, something is revealed—the very marrow of life. We change. A transformation occurs. Our consciousness shifts.
—Terry Tempest Williams
I went for a walk because I thought it would be good for me to get outside and move and breathe fresh air. It turns out I needed more than that: to be among people to feel human, to feel seen. It left me with a profound sense that everything is going to be okay; I don’t know how or when, but it will be okay.
The neighbourhood mural art depicted in these images is by arpi and has been painted over since I took this photo in June 2019.