Mary Schmich: The uplifting, unsettling pleasures of going for a walk in a coronavirus age

Mary Schmich: The uplifting, unsettling pleasures of going for a walk in a coronavirus age

  • 0
{{featured_button_text}}
Mary Schmich

We’re living in an eerie moment filled with words many of us have never used before. Social distancing. Self-isolation. Sheltering in place.

This eerie moment has presented us with new questions, one of them being: Can I go out for a walk?

This has been a pressing thought for the ardent walkers among us, and the happy news is that we can. Health experts say it’s fine to go outside to walk -- or bike or run -- as long as we stay six feet away from people who aren’t in our “home unit.”

So every day this week, I’ve untethered myself from the panicky, diseased world displayed on my little laptop screen and stepped instead into the fresh air. The moment I step outside, the world feels bigger, brighter, more hopeful.

But walking is different now. I walk down nearly empty streets, past shops and restaurants that are locked in the middle of the day. A lot of other walkers are out, many with dogs, but an unusual number are otherwise alone.

I sometimes trade a distant wave or smile with someone I know, or someone I don’t.

“You OK?” we call to each other. “Stay safe! Stay sane! Stay sanitized!”

On one walk, I spotted my neighbor Tom and we both extended our hands like shields, him on the sidewalk, me in the street.

“Don’t burst my bubble,” Tom called and we laughed.

He looked around at the absent cars and absent people.

“I love it!” he called. “It’s quiet! Clean.”

From our safe distance -- was this six feet? how far is six feet? -- we chatted about the damage humans do to the environment. We pondered whether this terrible thing that’s happening to people might wind up being good for the planet.

But who knows? Who knows anything for sure right now?

Out on my walks, I’m glad to to see that most of the solitary walkers are as vigilant as I am, veering away when someone approaches, stepping aside to create a safe zone. Once, from down the sidewalk, a young guy halted to let me pass and when I’d hurried by, I turned around and shouted, “Thanks for keeping the social distance!” He smiled.

I’ve also muttered curse words at a couple of joggers who huffed by way too close.

When you’re out walking, you can see who’s still working. The clerk at a 7-Eleven. The bread delivery guy who hops out of his truck to go into the 7-Eleven. A couple of construction crews. The mail carriers.

I called to one of the carriers the other day, something I wouldn’t ordinarily do, but walking with social distancing can be surprisingly social.

“Are you worried about staying safe?” I asked.

She nodded.

“Yeah,” she said. “But I wash my hands a lot.”

We waved goodbye, but as I walked off I worried about her and all the people obligated to be out and about on what we call “essential business.”

On one walk, I texted my friend Nancy, another ardent walker and my frequent walking companion, though I haven’t seen her since she returned from Spain last week and put herself into a 14-day quarantine she interrupts only for solo walks.

“I am on a walk right now,” she texted back from the lakefront. “Overly excited to see the first flowers coming out of the ground.”

Being inside, she noted in her text, keeps your eyes focused on what’s near. Being out, she could look into the far distance, out where a great lake meets a vast sky.

On another walk, I called a friend in Berkeley, California. He’s sheltering in place under a new law that applies to seven counties in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Does that mean you can’t go for a walk?” I asked, imagining the day such a law would go into effect in Chicago. He said it didn’t.

Because I believe we should all double-check everything we hear about the coronavirus, I checked the law. He was right, and it echoes the shelter-in-place order.

Spending time outside improves mood and well-being, and is particularly beneficial to children. You can go for walks, go to the park, and engage in other similar activities, but should maintain social distance (i.e. be more than six feet away from persons who are not part of your household) when on walks and in parks to avoid spread of the virus.

Spending time outside does improve your mood and well-being, and in this eerie moment we need that medicine wherever we can find it.

So go outside, if you can. Take a walk. A run. A bike ride. From a safe distance, witness the wide world, the one with far horizons, where crocuses are pushing out of the dirt, impervious to the madness.

0
0
0
0
0

Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

In 1939, two years before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II, the U.S. military was an anemic force in which Army troops still used horses to pull around artillery. Then an emergency buildup ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt transformed U.S. automakers' manufacturing plants into extraordinarily efficient producers of tanks, guns, airplane ...

China's announcement on March 17 that it will expel at least 13 American journalists with the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal will hurt China more than it will punish the United States. But it's not good for anyone. China called the move retaliation for a recent U.S. order sharply limiting the number of Chinese journalists in the U.S. But Beijing's decision is also ...

Over the past few weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has transformed life for all of us. As a country, we have taken a series of steps that would have been unimaginable a few weeks ago. Millions of Americans are working from home. Colleges, schools, churches, gyms, libraries, stores and other public places have all suspended operations or gone virtual. This massive transformation of everyday life ...

Like millions of other shut-in Americans, I received in the mail Tuesday a postcard-sized advisory on coronavirus practices purporting to come straight from the White House. Labeled "President Trump's Coronavirus Guidelines for America," the postcard offers responsible advice. It counsels all Americans to stay home if they feel sick, keep away from others if you're an older person or someone ...

President Trump has done everything he can to make the coronavirus epidemic seem less scary than is conveyed in stories like the one published Saturday by ProPublica describing lung failure in COVID-19 patients. That's not a bad impulse - a time-honored job of the commander in chief is to reassure Americans that they will get through whatever they're in, and to prevent a mass panic. The issue ...

Sometime within the next few weeks, the federal government will have to make arguably the most far-reaching policy decision since World War II. The strategy of social isolation to mitigate transmission of the novel coronavirus has been in place for less than a month, and President Donald Trump is now suggesting most restrictions should be lifted by Easter, April 12, although no official ...

  • Updated

We're in this together. (Just don't stand so close.) We're unified in our goal. (But look, 6 feet away, OK?) If you haven't been outside lately, let me paint a picture: People are outside but not many people are outside, and wherever people are going right now - to grocery stores, jogging trails, gas stations - an elaborate dance is happening, a social distancing pas de deux, being learned on ...

Until the past week or so, I've rarely thought of myself as old, at least not in the diminishing way the word is often used. I work a full-time job, walk 5 miles a day, go to the gym, teach yoga to young theater students and climb three flights of stairs to my condo several times a day. I never kid myself that age is only in the mind - the mirror won't allow that delusion - but I don't feel ...

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, my fellow economists have reached deep into their bare cupboards of old ideas, and what have they found? Models that do not work: bailouts for big companies. Tax cuts for people well-off enough to owe taxes. Cash-grant schemes, a favorite of the universal income crowd. These tactics won't be effective. We cannot predict how bad the economic situation will get. ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News