The water in the gutter ran down the street as if it were being chased. The little 8-year-old girl ran after it, or more correctly, she ran after the little piece of wood floating on it. A piece of wood she had placed there herself.
“Mommy, Mommy, look!” She said excitedly.
Her mommy did not look. At least not at her. She was, however, looking intently at her phone.
“It’s floating!” said the little girl
“Uh huh, honey, that’s great,” she said.
Nothing beguiles the young like their own sense of accomplishment.
The walking path was relatively clear, but in an era of social distancing, passing people while walking on a narrow path creates certain logistical problems.
-Can I pass them quickly? Or will it take a long time?
-What if someone comes the other direction while I am passing?
-Can we stay six feet apart?
Six feet doesn’t seem all that far. But then you realize that nothing in this modern world of ours is set up to be six feet apart. Not the line at the coffee shop, not tables in a restaurant, not bar stools, not check-out lines, not movie theaters, not concerts. Not even parking spaces. In fact, most places are designed for maximum occupancy. How can we put more and more people together in the interest of making money?
Yet on this path the people were spread out, six feet apart the whole length of the path, like a giant segmented creature slowly moving along. I was reminded of the pub crawl, or the tourist trek. Where you keep running into the same people over and over again, before you realize that you are all doing exactly the same things.
These days a casual stroll along any hiking trail will reveal some truths. Many trails are now populated by service people furloughed indefinitely; bartenders, waiters, hair stylists, masseuses, rideshare drivers. Anyone who cannot work from home, and anyone not deemed essential. They are all there.
“Mommy, Mommy! Look!”
The water had reached the end of this part of its journey and was now spilling over the grate into the underground sewer, taking the little girl’s piece of wood with it.
“Where do you think it goes?” she asked, tugging on her mother’s arm.
“Uh huh, honey, that’s great,” said the mother.
“Mommy, let’s try and find out!”
“We don’t have time,” said the mother.
“You always say that,” said the little girl looking down.
“Next time,” said her mother.
“You always say that too.”
Their little sojourn to the sewer grate was now causing that great segmented creature to bunch up, even rupture, as people became confused on how to stay six feet apart while negotiating an obstacle. The father with his two sons was having trouble keeping them corralled, the couple with the dog was now forced to hang on to him, because six feet apart includes your off-leash pooch too, a much older couple gripped their face masks more tightly to their faces. Water seeks its own level, and so do people.
“Let’s go look at that!” pointed the little girl forgetting about the grate and pointing at a sign indicating a trail splitting off from the main one.
“Next time,” repeated the mother.
“We never have time to do anything.” said the little girl looking down. “You and daddy, just work, all the time. Work. Work. Work.”
The mother looked at her little one, glanced at the glut forming at the trailhead and then put her phone down.
“Let’s go that way,” said the mom pointing in the direction of the path not yet taken.
“Really Mommy? Really?”
“Yes, she said. “Really.”
They headed off towards a new adventure, one that had often been promised, just never delivered on. “Next time” had always been the refrain. But next time had never come. Something that had been evident on the face of that little girl standing at the trailhead. At least until today.
“Why not?” said the mother. “We have nowhere else to go.”
She reached down and grabbed the little girl’s hand, setting off down a new path towards an uncertain future.
“Mommy! Look!” said the little girl, at least twice before they disappeared out of sight beyond the bend in the trail, leaving the rest of us in that great segmented beast to sort out all the kinks left behind.
All our futures are uncertain, we never really do know what might happen, but even in uncertain times, good things do happen.
30 years from now that grown girl probably won’t remember the Spring that her service worker mother missed several months of work. But she just might remember the Spring that her mother had the time to follow through on all her promises.