The Circle of Life in a Walk in the Park

birth, death, and walking the dog just continue — even during a pandemic

Sarah Johnson

“We should really try to go for a walk,” Tyler said, hovering over me. He had likely noticed my body was starting to look quite a bit like our living room couch and grew concerned. After nearly a week of not working, Tyler had exhausted 75% of the “to-do” list he made for himself and was growing more impatient than a 5-year-old looking for a snack. After six years together, we had never spent more than five days off of work simultaneously. It is wonderful to be married to someone with a “can do” attitude, except for the times when – per the government – all they can do is nothing at all. Then it gets a little stressful.

“I don’t really wa–” I started to say back, “No we really should,” he replied. “You’ll feel better. It’s really nice out.” I finally gave in, figuring a walk would tire out both my dog and my husband. We live a cemetery’s walk away from Rod and Gun Park in Eau Claire, so I requested we go there. I missed the sound of the river and thought it would be a scenic escape from somber times. 

Our initial walk seemed innocent enough – handfuls of people riding bikes in the distance, other walkers we would cross the street to avoid. It’s no easy task to be Midwestern during social distancing – so many “Hi, how are you?” opportunities floating around like sneezes that never got their light of day. Doors for strangers left unopened, bars and restaurants now haunted with the ghosts of friends buying drinks for one another. A catacomb of community now resting quietly, waiting for the day it is once again warmed by the sun.

We had just begun our descent into the park when we saw a car in the parking lot. Usually, this would cause no alarm; however, in the current climate we wanted to make sure we weren’t encroaching on someone else’s off-the-couch time. From the top of the stairs, we saw three people down by the water. One girl was having her picture taken. She was garmented in greenery with a floral crown on her head and was holding her belly – a maternity photoshoot. We watched her smile, laugh, and cradle her unborn baby lovingly. A young mother whose pregnancy was concluding in the most chaotic time the world has seen in decades. Life doesn’t read the news. Babies are born, even in pandemics. 

We all keep talking about this “new normal” we’re swimming in. Fear of the unknown, the uncertainty of the other side of quarantine, but maybe with the new normal comes a new appreciation for what we’ve always had. 

We decided against going further into the park and climbed back up the stairs towards home. As we passed through the cemetery a second time, we saw a slew of oncoming cars, the first one with flags on the front of it. The second, a hearse. What followed was a dozen or so other headlights, flashers on, all turning into the cemetery. Tyler and I tried not to stare, both likely wondering what grief and loss meant in a world that seemed so broken already. When life becomes numbers on the news, how do we recognize the death of individuals among the masses? 

The turn onto our block was coming up. Our small safe haven on the horizon and within it, a couch with an embarrassing imprint of my body slowly deepening with each passing day. We were just about to turn onto our street when a familiar neighborhood dog came out to greet our dog, Harvey. 

“Oh! Hi guys!” We heard a voice yell from the end of a driveway. A neighbor I had met only a handful of times stood in front of her grill trying to call her dog back into the yard. We waved politely and smiled. She was the first real life person I’d seen aside from my husband in nearly two weeks. I don’t even know what her name is, but at that moment, it was so nice to see her.

“So…” she said in a sigh, “how are you guys doing?” A loaded question we all want to ask each other.

We all keep talking about this “new normal” we’re swimming in. Fear of the unknown, the uncertainty of the other side of quarantine, but maybe with the new normal comes a new appreciation for what we’ve always had. It’s taking the time to think fondly of a new mom. It’s mourning the death of a complete stranger. It’s asking a neighbor how they’re doing. Maybe the other side of normal is knowing how terrible it is to not have each other, and finding solace in the company we once took for granted.

So I guess what I’m saying is, if somebody tries to get you off the couch, don’t make them work too hard.

Sarah Johnson is a writer in Eau Claire.