What to write in the middle of a pandemic?
I walked to my local park today. The sun was shining. It was warm and the sky was blue, though there was a slight chill in the wind. The cherry trees were in blossom, the ground beneath scattered with white petals like confetti. I could hear birds singing in newly budding trees.
And the city was quiet.
I stopped to listen. And to marvel, at the sound of a city paused. A surprising stillness, broken only briefly by occasional traffic, distant sirens and singing birds. This was something that wasn’t supposed to happen, something that wasn’t supposed to be possible. The seemingly impossible has become real.
Around me individuals, couples, family groups, dog walkers made their way around the park. All intent on their daily exercise, all observing a social distance. Well-spaced perambulations around park perimeters, guided by invisible rules and fear. All fulfilling the order of daily exercise, intent on staying apart. How interesting that our daily lives can be disrupted so, that daily walks take on the nature of procession and ritual. A once-a-day observance, an ordered following, moving along paths laid out so long ago, occupying space that was never meant for us.
For so many of our city parks were once private playgrounds. Now spaces of freedom and ordered release for many in the midst of a lockdown. In normal times, they are localities of sociality, play and green space for all. Or nearly all at least. It is unlikely that their former owners would have imagined such a change; the seemingly impossible has become a reality. For change comes in the least expected ways. Society alters and shifts, and things barely imagined before become solid. It has always been so. It will be again. Change. And illness. Have always been a part of us, of human society. Of life. We in the present are no different from those of the past, though we often think we are. Perhaps we would learn more if we turned attention to what has come before and applied lessons to the present. Perhaps.
But for now I am grateful for the green space of urban parks among the concrete and tarmac of the city. Grateful for that past turning of private to public, for the past forces that ordered our city so. Small green oases within walking distance of most. In our shrunken world they provide release and space. A gift from the past, for us in the present. A reason to be thankful. Impossible spaces in an impossible world.
I am grateful too for our ability to add procession, ritual and observance to a daily, usually unconsidered occupation.
So I joined that dispersed promenade. Admitted to the processional observance, I walked, following the grey tarmacked path around the city park, pacing my way amongst the arrangement of people, observing the ritual and the rules, listening to the quiet of an afternoon in the city.
As I walked I noted the small kindnesses that exist amongst the ritual. A smile, a nod as one stranger stepped out of the way of the other, retreating the requisite distance, providing safety for both. Small exchanges with neighbours as each stood apart, enquiring how the other is coping, tiny offers of help, small social connections, however necessarily distant. Kindness and community surfacing, even in the most difficult of times. Another way in which we do not differ from those who came before us.
I noted too the newly budding trees, the freshly heard cacophony of bird song and the riotously blossoming trees, all speaking of new life and of hope. Even in the midst of a pandemic.