By Mark Gauert
City & Shore Magazine
There’s a road around the neighborhood, down where our street ends. There’s a sidewalk and jogging trail and, in the old days, before March of 2020, people biked and jogged and walked dogs around it.
There are signposts along the walkway, every quarter of a mile or so, to show how far you’ve gone around the 2.85-mile loop. Or how far you still have to go.
When we were all sent home from work and school, when we were all first setting up our quarantined lives, people from the neighborhood started using the sidewalk and jogging trail a lot more. Little kids on bikes, people jogging for the first time in a while, dogs on leashes getting more walks than they’d ever known before.
Maybe because we were new to this back then, maybe because we wanted to remind each other that we were not alone in those early days, someone started sticking Post-it notes of encouragement on the signs along the sidewalk and jogging trail.
“Spread love, not viruses,” one read.
“Stay safe,’’ another.
And, “Love thy neighbor.”
The neighbors. We know so much more about them now.
The boys over the fence who crank their music each evening at sunset, letting off steam after home school all day. In the old days, before March of 2020, I might have been annoyed to listen to somebody else’s music at the loveliest moment of the day. Now I keep reminding myself, those kids need to let off some steam. And this is all they’ve got.
Another day, the girl over another side of the yard started yelling and screaming. At first, I thought she was just playing – we hear that sound a lot in our neighborhood – but, after a couple of minutes without letting up, I looked over the fence and saw the rope of her porch swing had snapped, and she was in a heap on the ground.
“Are you OK?” I asked – and she looked up at me like she was embarrassed her screams had alerted a neighbor. “Can I help, or call anyone for you?”
“I’m fine,” she said, “no, really.”
“Well, I’m just over the fence,’’ I said. “Just yell if you change your mind.”
We’ve got to look after each other, I keep reminding myself. Because we’re all we’ve got.
Then there’s the man down the street; whose two dogs got loose and attacked a duck in the yard across from our house.
He looked sick as he walked down the street to retrieve them, and not from coronavirus.
“My wife and daughter left the garage door open,” he said, at social distance. “They got out without us noticing.”
Maybe because I was stressed from the quarantine. Maybe because the dogs had attacked the duck so viciously, before letting go. Maybe because we’re all feeling helpless, in these strange days.
But I heard my voice rising, in a tone I’d never taken with a neighbor before.
“You idiot!” I yelled, as he pulled his dogs away. “What if that had been somebody’s kid!?”
He didn’t stop. Didn’t look back. Didn’t say anything.
Just kept pulling the dogs back, somewhere down the street.
A few days later, I saw a young girl I took to be his daughter, drawing pictures with colored chalk at the end of their driveway. Surely he understood, I thought as I watched her play. What could have happened if somebody’s kid had been out there when the dogs came down the street.
That’s why he’d looked so sick. Why he didn’t look around to hear what I had to say.
I keep reminding myself, we’ve got to put ourselves in our neighbor’s shoes. More now than we did in the old days, before March of 2020.
On the road running around our neighborhood, down where our street ends, the Post-it notes from those early days are still clinging to the signposts. Something to remind us that we’re in this together, every quarter of a mile or so. Or for as far as we’ve still got to go.
“Spread love, not viruses.”
And, “Love thy neighbor.”
Even when they play their music too loud. Even when they fall out of porch swings.
Even when they forget to close the garage door, and the dogs come down the street.
The notes may be fading now, on the road running around our neighborhood.
But the thought remains.
- Mark Gauert, email@example.com