Huggers and other Strangers

Well, I haven’t written in the blog since late summer and frankly, like they say, neither has Shakespeare. I have been stopping on my way in and out of the house and staring at the garden, seeing how late I can entertain planting a bulb or growing a radish. The time has been oddly compressed and stretched for the past couple of years. I forget what season I’m in, what level of lock-down I’m at, and have odd moments of feeling like I have forgotten my mask even though it is on my face. Much like those dreams where I am caught naked in the town square, with nowhere to hide.

I suppose it hit me yesterday when I had a visit to the doctor (all is fine), and, when leaving some guy was honking his horn in the car beside me as I left the clinic. I figured he had leaned on the horn, or pushed that wrong button on his key fob, but no, he was pointing at me and waving me over. Both of us mysteriously masked but after a moment recognizing the other.

I opened the door on the passenger side, maintaining our distance, and realized that it was an old colleague from the gym. You know, the ones you share a joke or anecdote with, or just a knowing glance. You become quite familiar with your gym colleagues when you are in the throes of muscular pain. It seems to be an underlying bonding agent, as you laugh about nothing in particular.

Ron and I were on a first name basis in that we didn’t actually know each others’ last names. We’d usually have a chat about nothing important, always a laugh and I would marvel that this spry guy with a bounce in his step and a great positive attitude was seventy five. He wandered around the gym like a teenager and I could only hope I was like that at his age.

I hadn’t seen him for well beyond two years as I switched gyms some time before the pandemic set in. So we talked for a few minutes. “I’m eighty-three,” he told me during our conversation, sounding incredulous as if he was more surprised than anyone. He still had that twinkle in his eye. I joked that I knew him when he was seventy-five. We chatted a bit about our lives and how we were attempting to stay fit through it all. Joking about who was going to “go first” to that great beyond. It was obvious that we had both been missing those opportunities to have a chat and a laugh. In fact he mentioned how much he missed those spontaneous opportunities to just have a chat. We talked about our respective fitness regimes and how they had changed to accommodate the current climate.

I was literally glowing when I got in my car, from the interaction, the humour, the reconnection, and the realization of what had been missing in my life. I brought my car around beside his and asked him what his last name is. I thought, I don’t want to let this person fall of my map again. Who knows who would be the next to go. Who knows who would need to be there for the other.

As I drove away, my own private wave hit me. I thought of all of the people in my life or who have been in my life. I thought of the check-out staff at the local grocery and hardware stores, the book store where everyone knows my name, the ones with whom I maintain to-be-continued conversations, the gym folks, the writing group, all the people in town with whom I’ve worked. We talk about my dog, the weather, the heat, the cold. All of them, my friends too, all kept at arms length, unhuggable. Second guessing that impulse. Yet, I had taken it all so much for granted in those years of relative freedom.

I knew then, what had been missing and for a moment driving through the main street of that little town, I felt all of the sadness that I had somehow put aside for about eighteen months. Ron and I were not huggers to one another but there was a definite bubble of care and concern and joy at meetings at the gym and now, after all of that time. There was an element to the relationship that I can’t seem to put into words. But it was so damn nice to see someone so happy to see me, honking their horn, waving me over.

I thought of friends and family and those intimate moments when we assume no one is watching and we look at our reflection in the mirror, you know, into our own eyes, and wonder perhaps how we’ll get through another day. I hoped that they can all dig deep enough if need be and find the strength to go on, and know that the love is out there, waiting for them, waiting for a moment when we can be close again and hug, pat a shoulder, punch a bicep, and finally breathe. Understand our need.

For a moment I felt joined and at one with those friends and colleagues. It was overpowering. A moment of not feeling quite so isolated, in the knowledge that right now we are all sharing in something we don’t quite understand, are saddened by it, disoriented by it, but believing that somehow the fundamentals have survived.