Yesterday was Sunday.  It is always tranquil in our retirement community on Sunday mornings. Outside, the silence is only interrupted by the whoosh of environmentally conscious hybrid vehicles gliding through the 15 mile an hour speed limit. They pick up our residents for church and later return them for Sunday brunch, a weekly dining highlight. 

Yesterday was unusually quiet.  Local churches canceled services as part of the attempt at “social distancing” to prevent contagion by COVID-19.  As I took the dog for our morning walk, I noticed birdsong piercing the hush and our local brook gurgling and clamoring around its stones – sounds that are customarily muted by distant traffic rumblings, even on Sundays.

Digby and I met an older man whom I recognized as a resident, but whose name I didn’t know.  He scuffed laboriously along the drive, holding tightly to the handles of his walker.   As we neared each other, he smiled broadly.  Digby did not bark and seemed at ease, so we crossed the road and approached the man.  His face sported a couple of days-worth of grey stubble.  His smile revealed a set of perfect dentures, his countenance glowed.  “What a beautiful day!”  he remarked.  I agreed. “The winter hasn’t been too hard this year. I haven’t minded it too much.”  Again, I agreed.  Digby stood unusually silent and still beside me. “Spring is more than just a hope,” he continued. “Yes!” I replied.  We beamed at each other then proceeded on our separate ways.  He, with tiny careful steps, and I tugged forward by an enthusiastic pup.

Later, near the end of Digby’s morning rounds in his little princedom, I saw a neighbor leaving her cottage.  We waved and called out greetings.  It was clear she wanted to chat, so the dog and I approached.  Again, Digby was uncharacteristically quiet.  “Isn’t it weird, the quiet,” she said.  “I think the recommended social distancing is very isolating.”  “Do you feel isolated?” I asked.  “Yes.”  We stood more than the recommended six feet apart.  “You are going to the store?”  She was carrying an armful of reusable grocery bags. “Yes, I don’t know what I will find.”  “Probably not toilet paper.”  I joked.  We made a few more comments on how odd and unreal it seemed to be in the middle of a viral pandemic and then wished each other well for the day.  I proceeded home with Digby, and she drove off at 15 miles an hour. 

Something about the contrast in my two encounters tugged at my mind.  The man, at peace, seemingly oblivious of the imminent threat, exulting in the joy of a sun-drenched stroll.  The woman, ill-at-ease, wishing for a different set of circumstances but standing in the fresh air, chatting with a neighbor about her perplexity.

How differently we react to the Coronavirus threat – to the news that we must reconsider and revise our ways of being in the world; we, the elderly in years, who hear repeated warnings that we are most at risk to contract this disease and perhaps die from it.  Behind some old eyes live brains that still think we’re young and strong. Inside some old chests, our hearts contract with caution or fear; in others, they expand with peace and joy, exulting in the precious gift of now: the birds, the brook, the sun.  Grateful for the slow, weak legs that carry us unsteadily through all this beauty. The smile, the friendly greeting, the “small talk” that binds us in our mutual concerns. The joy of noticing and honoring one another for who we are, exactly as we are.

Namaste – the light in me honors the light in you!

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