He decides to go for a walk. It is sunny and warm, with a slight breeze, the kind of day nature promises all winter and then, just when we’ve given up hope, delivers.
The trees show off new leaves, shrubs sparkle with bright blossoms, and white daffodils celebrate the green in newly awakened lawns. Birds sing a wide variety of songs, each unique, each melodious, and all, somehow, blending together in perfect harmony.
He passes under a blue jay sitting high up on a wire. Suddenly, it screeches and darts down at him like a fighter jet. He ducks and the blue jay misses by inches. There must be a hidden nest.
He strolls along a sidewalk, alone. Cars and trucks, which normally streak by in a noisy hurry, are nowhere to be seen or heard.
50 yards ahead he sees a lone pedestrian coming toward him. When they are a few yards apart the pedestrian veers into the middle of the empty street and offers a distant, “Good Morning”, without stopping or looking at him.
He passes a park with a “Closed” sign. It blocks a playground usually packed with laughter and shrieks of joy. The swing sets and slides are now wrapped in a bright orange plastic lace, the kind that is used to fence off snow in the winter. Today it fences off children.
Empty benches face the play area. An older woman sits on one of them, looking off into the distance. He waves to her, but she doesn’t notice.
He’s reminded of a line in Kris Kristofferson’s song, Sunday Morning, Coming Down, “a small kid cussin’ at a can, that he was kickin’”. There are no kids here today, no cans and no cussin’.
The only cussin’ is from grownups arguing about how we got here and when we’re going to get back there.
The leaders in past national traumas, like WWII, the Polio Epidemic, or 9/11 didn’t bully or threaten; they calmed, united, and inspired us. Now, we don’t just have a corona virus to face; we have a red/blue virus, this one exacerbated, not by nature, but by a petulant bully. Our petulant bully.
Which one is scarier? Yes.
The sidewalk bends slightly away from the street toward the river, which glistens and slaps against the banks, oblivious of the empty sidewalk. As he walks by a flock of seagulls pecking the grass, they startle and rush up into the sky, effortlessly arcing away from him.
He passes a young man in dirty clothes sitting at a picnic table, alone, motionless, head on his hands. Is he sleeping or passed out? Is he homeless, hopeless, or both?
Three, not two, mallard ducks waddle and quack past the table and the man, unhurried, toward the water.
We have to halt our lives to survive the coronavirus, thinks the man, but flowers and shrubs and grass don’t. Pigeons and seagulls and ducks just go about their day.
He passes an older man, portly, on a bench under a WWII statue, reading a tattered paperback. A rusty grocery cart is by his side, overflowing with a sleeping bag, groundcloth, clothes, and more books. A half-dozen pigeons compete for crumbs near his feet.
He offers the man a $5 bill.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“They close the park so homeless have nowhere to go. Do they ever wonder what the homeless will do now? Do they wonder when the homeless will start robbing people?”
“I guess… I don’t know.”
He thinks about the national divide, not red/blue, but rich and poor. Is it survival of the fittest or the greediest? He thinks about the man vs nature conflict, which, as the planet heats up, is generating new threats, including the coronavirus. Is that about survival of the fittest? If so, nature isn’t isolating; humans are.
An older couple, holding hands, comes toward him. They laugh gently. He steps into the street and they actually look at him and smile as they pass.
He stops and turns to watch them.
He remembers a dream from last night. Whoever she was, she had held his hand the same way and lightly kissed him. It has lingered all day.
On the way home, he passes silent streets, closed stores, and very few people, but plenty of trees, flowers, shrubs, pigeons, seagulls, and ducks. The blue jay is still on the wire, guarding the nest.
He crosses to the other side of the street and continues on alone.