The Distance

20191014_051439We moved to our neighbourhood mid-year 2019, five months before the first case of COVID-19 occurred. It was a quiet, residential area surrounded by bushland, hills, and walking parks. We introduced ourselves to the neighbours in our cul-de-sac when we moved in, but after that, we never engaged in conversation. Most of them were aging, though, and we made a habit to smile and wave when they are out tending their lawns or feeding birds. We learned early on, from our morning dog walks and afternoon strolls, where the dogs lived and whom owned cats allowed to roam free.

Less than a block from our front door, there’s the entrance to a one kilometre walking park where we let the dogs out on full-leash so they can sniff the grass and wee on the trees. Sometimes, they spot a kangaroo or wallaby before we do, leaving us puffed as we try to wrangle them to our sides.

But mostly, we learned that no matter the time of day we enjoyed a walk, we rarely came into contact with any other people. Evening walks at 4-5-6pm showed us that as people returned home from their jobs, they locked up and stayed indoors. The dynamics of middle-class life were the same: work-home-tv-sleep. Despite our differences, we were the same.

As we entered week four of social distancing, we challenged ourselves to 10,000 steps every day. It seemed unachievable. There was no walking from a car park, or train, into the office anymore. There were no incidental trips to the grocery store or to get coffee with the boss. Routines that we weren’t even aware we had were gone.

Late Monday, when the best I could muster was 7,000 steps from taking the dogs for a walk and pacing my living room during telecons, I suggested we go for a walk, like we used to. We left the house, expecting the same lack of people as before, forgetting that the world wasn’t the same since the last time we took an evening stroll.

As we entered the walking park, we noticed several couples and families on the paths. For the first time since moving into the area, we saw how culturally diverse our neighbourhood is. It seemed oddly heartwarming. But it didn’t stop there.

Every couple and group were observing proper social distancing. If there was an intersection, one couple would slow down while the other would speed up so they would not be in danger of coming into contact. Families chatted from across streets as one small group would cross the street rather than risk coming into physical contact. We followed a similar path, walking onto the grass when we noticed a dog and his owner coming our way.

As dusk sent the world in shades of pink and amber and orange, I realised we were all the same. Isolation has driven us from our homes but made us socially conscious for the first time. And that’s weirdly comforting.

It may not be the same everywhere, but here, in my little suburb, distancing has brought us a little closer together.

14 thoughts on “The Distance

  1. Pretty much the same here, although tend to walk around (several) blocks rather than park. Also, no wallabies or kangaroos . Surreal times

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    1. I’m seeing a lot of people walking at all times of day around here. It’s very heartwarming. Sadly, I’m not participating much at all, because of FFVII Remake & Animal Crossing: New Horizons!

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  2. It’s been the same here. More people than ever are out walking! Reading this made me smile, imagining how much my dog would freak out if she saw a wallaby. I like how the last line tied up the irony of the situation, that we’re communicating more with neighbors while “socially distancing” ourselves. Might be nice to include a hint at that theme in the first paragraph (like “The houses were close together but we felt far apart” or similar) to help illustrate how things had changed.

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    1. Thanks, Jen! (Sorry for lateness. Time slipped away from me in April.) I totally agree with your concrit! That would have been perfect and brought it more full circle. 🙂

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  3. Fifteen years ago or so, on Easter morning, a tree blew down at our neighbors’ house while they were away, taking out the power for two entire blocks and blocking the neighbors’ driveway. We all trundled out there in our pajamas to see what was going on, and this is how we all met each other. One guy had a saw, another had an axe. My wife and I had loppers. We spent the day chopping up that tree so the neighbors would be able to park in their driveway when they got home. Sometimes, as you say, it takes a disaster (small or large) to bring people together. This time around, our neighborhood has set up a Google Group to stay in touch and support each other. 🙂

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    1. I love that your neighborhood has set up Google Group! That is so lovely! Our whole suburb uses an app called NextDoor. It was cluttered with some conspiracy theorist propaganda for a few weeks (yep, can’t escape the stupid), but now it’s just being used to check in on people and ask for help/advice.

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      1. I’m on NextDoor too, but I find it mostly useful for things like “lost/found pet.” There’s a lot of arguing, a lot of NIMBY, and a lot of griping. Our neighborhood group is only families on our block (give or take a couple houses) and most of us have met each other by now, which is nice. 🙂

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  4. I hear so many stories like this from people! Sadly, we don’t have any neighbors near us to really connect with, safely or no. I hope you can find ways to get to know each other and do things together afterward.
    In the sentence where you said, “…7,000 steps from taking the dogs for a walk and pacing my living room …, I suggested we go for a walk,” I was a bit confused why this walk was different than the dog walk. Maybe you could express it in a different way, like “I suggested we go for another walk” or “a walk together” or “to the walking park”? Or refer to the dog walk differently in the first part of the sentence (i.e. “exercising the dogs” or “letting the dogs out, who, who-who-who”)?

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    1. Thanks, Katie! I realized after writing the piece that I should have made it clear that our dog walks are every weekday. Otherwise, the dogs go stir-crazy. It’s our afternoon walks, just hubby and me, that we let fall by the wayside. haha

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  5. It’s so interesting you note this. I was just remarking to my husband a few days ago that our local dog-walking park seems much busier than it’s ever been. And now there’s a new phenomenon of people walking past our house at night and, if we’re sitting on the balcony, stopping to say hello and have a chat. It’s weirdly disconcerting and comforting at the same time.

    In support of Christine’s point above, I think you’ve had a break in your regular walking schedule (the evening one) but the reader isn’t aware of this break, so it reads a little oddly when you talk about going for a walk “like we used to”. A little more clarification here would smooth that timeline out.

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    1. Since writing this, I have noticed that there are soooo many people walking the sidewalks and parks right now, and I think it’s just lovely. I find it interesting you’re having balcony conversations. That’s super sweet! Now I wish I had a balcony, or front yard veranda. haha I realized that I probably should have mentioned that dog walks are a necessity and are every weekday morning. It seems a silly thing to miss now that I think about it. haha

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