Only three months ago whenever somebody in the street waved to us, my husband and I would look at each other and ask, “Who is that?” We usually knew. Kevin in particular is a human social network machine and most often the recipient of those waves from cars, from check-out lines, from across the street. About a month ago, walking through the nearly empty tiny woods near our house, we received our first wave from a man neither of us knew. He was walking a lovely golden retriever who lunged and pulled against his leash. Although he was at least twelve feet from us, we shouted, “Beautiful dog” and waved back. We knew we would have remembered the dog, if not the man, and that it was just a stranger’s friendly gesture. As the week wore on, though there were few people out, everybody smiled and waved, and we waved and smiled back. Soon the waves and smiles were accompanied by shouts of “Just hang in there. How are you doing? Beautiful day?” It is often joked that Maine is really just a small town; it seems truer now as complete strangers acknowledge each other’s existence.
Our favorite walk is in Evergreen Cemetery, massive and beautiful with stones ranging from the 1700’s to the present. This April, life is springing up between the graves, the first burst of wildflowers, potted lilies, mums and roses signaling to the dead that they are not forgotten. The trees, far more than six feet apart, reach up to the awakening spring sun, stretching their branches like children hungry for space. Kevin and I always make it a point to visit a cluster of graves of children who lived in an orphanage and died from influenza; I hope there was somebody holding their hand as they died despite the danger. This cluster is a grim reminder that many things are more powerful than we arrogant humans.
Other walkers, with a wide sweep of their hands, shout, “Beautiful.” We nod in vigorous agreement. It is as though we might be taking into ourselves a beauty that had previously dwelt on the perimeters of our awareness; recognized but perhaps not deemed as important as what happened at work, or a quarrel with a spouse, or what to prepare for dinner. Now we are flooded with the imbricate shades of living green, the sun setting everything into sharp relief, the background of bird songs becoming the most important part of the symphony.
This last week, as world-wide deaths rise and our president fumbles, the shouts have been: “Hang-in-there, we’re all in this together, we’re gonna make it,” and with that same sweep of hands, “Aren’t we lucky.” It’s a tribute to how beautiful the world around us is, but it is really about how lucky we are to be alive. We always yell back, “Yes, very lucky,” our voices loud enough for others to frequently join in. For at least this moment, I believe that people feel bonded to those around them and trust that we will make it to the other side of this pandemic.
Writers with far greater talent will tell far more important stories than mine, stories that encompass politics, humanity, love, betrayal, philosophy and economics. For me, however, the most important story to tell right now is this simple wave that I see everywhere that reveals the vulnerability, hope, and love that we are often too frightened to share, but do anyway at this time as an offering to confirm we believe that, indeed, we are all in this together and we are rooting for each other to make it.