I’m going to miss this.
Maybe I’m the only one that felt this today. I’m not talking about the economy being shut down. I’m not talking about the thousands of people sick and dying of this awful disease. I’m not talking about the job losses, the stress, the anxiety, or the parents who don’t know how to deal with one more day inside with their children wanting to watch Peppa Pig.
What I am talking about is the feeling that I got this afternoon while walking with my son around our neighborhood. We’ve lived in the south hills of Pittsburgh for a tad over ten years. I watched in stunned silence as one family- who I had never seen venture outside of their property in anything other than a car- walked together past our home while going for a walk together.
My son and I followed shortly thereafter. During that forty-five minute stroll on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon, I was transported back to a scene that I haven’t experienced since my childhood. Before I explain, I want to share that going for walks in our neighborhood is essentially a daily routine for our family, either individually or together.
In that time, Elizabeth and I have made countless jokes that we began to wonder if people actually live in these houses. The signs of life would come from the occasional car pulling out of a driveway, a school bus whizzing by, and the same three or four people that we’ve seen walk the neighborhood with us over the past decade.
But today was different.
It took me by surprise when a little girl ran out of the front door yelling hello to us with a big smile. We both waved and said hello as she ran towards the backyard. We live on the street over, and I’ve never seen this girl before. Across from her was a family on their porch, grilling burgers and casually chatting. Up ahead, we watched multiple families walking the neighborhood, pushing strollers, or tossing a ball around.
Why did this look so odd, but familiar? It was odd because I’d never seen it since we’ve lived here. Truth be told, I haven’t seen it for decades. I remember the realization way back in 2001 when I was a newspaper photographer in Indiana, driving around looking for something happening to photograph. Families playing ball, kids horsing around in the street- whatever. But I kept finding nothing.
Nobody went outside anymore.
The parents worked or stayed in the house. The kids were at school, doing homework, playing video games or at organized activities. But nobody went outside.
After we returned from our walk, Elizabeth went on one as well. A while later, she called to see how we were doing.
“What is that noise?” I asked.
“Oh,” she said, “those are the kids playing.”
I didn’t recognize the sound. We talk often when she walks, and I hadn’t heard that in the background before. After she returned home, Elizabeth verbally mentioned what I had been thinking. Before I told my story, she mentioned that she saw a dad was helping his kid trim a tree. Another was playing ball with his daughter. Others were working on the garden and mowing lawns.
“I saw more of this today than in all of those years combined,” she said.
You couldn’t tell that the world had shut down. Then again, maybe this is what it looks like when we slow down. What happens when the after school activities are cancelled? What happens when parents work from home, or one even stops working? What happens when the busy, the grind, the over scheduling comes to a stop?
It looked a lot like what life used to look like.
Soon enough, we’ll go back to normal. Adults will start commuting to work again. School buses will rumble through the streets. After school activities will ramp up, the busy-ness will return, and we’ll be back to normal. When that happens, I’ll go for a neighborhood stroll and, once again, I’ll see the three or four people I normally see. The neighborhood will become quiet again.
And I’m going to miss this.