My morning walks this week have differed from weeks past as I have ditched my headphones and instead taken to grasping an iced coffee which I am able to safely sip in the solitude of a sidewalk square when no one is around and my mask can be pulled down. If you were to trace the route of my standard morning walk, it would resemble two circles with parallel lines connecting them, similar to the outline of a barbell. I always walk partially around traffic circle # 1, take the straight path to the traffic circle #2, walk fully around circle #2, and then take the straight path back to finish out circle #1. This walk takes about 20-25 minutes and has become part of my calming quarantine morning routine.
Inevitably at circle #2, I have become accustomed to seeing a woman nearly every morning who always wears bright neon athletic clothing which delights my eyes as she is more colorful than any row house or flower amongst her. Nestled in her elbow is what I presume to be a walking stick, which is held parallel to the ground. Her gait always makes me smile because she walks around the circle as if she is fast-paced marching, and at times from afar I almost visualize her to be leading some sort of imaginary charge in her wake. When I get close enough to circle #2 and I do see her, I always get a little bit excited, as this stranger is familiar enough to me now that I am comforted at the sight of her. We have passed each other enough mornings that we are on a headnod-and-masked-muffled-hello basis.
This morning, I saw my stranger across circle #2 sporting hot pink leggings, a beacon of brightness. I made a snap decision to deviate off my normal path of finishing out circle #2 because I was craving a change of scenery, which meant I would not immediately pass my walking stranger but knowing that she typically paces the perimeter of this circle a few times, I figured I’d greet her once my path brought me back to circle #2. As I finished out my diversion and walked back toward circle #2, the absence of brightness made me realize I had foregone my opportunity to say hello to my favorite familiar stranger, as she was nowhere to be found. Traipsing along my normal path to finish out circle #1, I glanced across the families milling in the middle of the park and saw my beacon. I was surprised to see my stranger in circle #1, as I have only ever seen her in circle #2. My mind raced, I didn’t even know she knew about about circle #1! Of course she knows about circle #1, why wouldn’t she? I reasoned with myself but not for long as my caffeinated excitement accelerated my pace, which now guaranteed I would pass my stranger. Behind my bandana, I smiled and briefly debated whether to share with her that she always brightens my mornings. Instead, as we passed each other, we mustered our ritual head nods and hellos and finished out our morning walks. It is moments like these I wish to remember, how two simple strangers’ salutations can soothe souls.