Today I tried this intriguing activity that keeps popping up on Instagram called “walking outside.” I put on clothes and shoes, left my house, and walked.
Here is what I saw:
- other people
- a teenage puppy learning how to act like a grown-up dog on a leash
- a squirrel gnawing on a gutter for no apparent reason
I didn’t see these things all at once, which was for the best, because this would have been overwhelming, and I probably would have run away. Instead, I’d walk, and see a dad with his two daughters. And then a little more, and there were some helicopter seeds scattered on the ground. A little more, and there came the puppy, tail pointing to the sky, trying to go in 18 directions at once on about an inch of leash.
We’re all forced introverts now. This wasn’t always A Thing; I used to walk outside as long as it was warm enough to not hate the biting air I breathed. But in an era in which I’ve stood masked, alone, and immunized in a grocery store with at least a four-aisle radius between me and the next human being, I have begun, by flinching inches, to furl ever further away from the clamoring small talk and unflattering fluorescent lights of general humanity. I have permission now, you see.
As I walked, I came past two men standing quite a distance apart, throwing a baseball. I was too far away to tell if it was a father/teenage son pair, or a coach and an outfielder, or two teammates, or– I wouldn’t put it past us at this point– two random strangers who came wandering through the neighborhood with mitts and were so desperate for some form of unsanctioned team sport that they simply decided to pair up and will never see each other again.
If it weren’t unforgivably creepy, I would have watched for a while (I already slowed down too much earlier to watch the puppy jog in place, and this is the type of thing that gets you on Twitter, and not in a good way.) They were separated by at least twenty or thirty yards, and yet they faced one another, the little white sphere arcing between them.
They were together, but separate; face to face, but not on a screen. The baseball served as a filament that connected them as surely as if they’d sent one another emojis. I couldn’t hear if they shouted at one another, but probably not– if they spoke loudly enough for one to hear the other, I would have been privy to the conversation as well.
If one had begun throwing errantly due to distraction or the other suddenly decided to turn this into proper pitching practice, they would have said so. This exchange, although nonverbal, would still have resulted in intent without prior discussion, action without context. The connection, this back and forth, would still have existed, with the rules and perhaps even the relationship between the two clearly shifted.
But for the space of my pacing past them, the men continued speaking like this, languidly throwing a baseball at one another. It was caught and returned, caught and returned. I have no idea how long they were out there with the teenage puppy and the helicopters and the babies.
I hope it was a long, long time.