Since last March, when the pandemic closed the public schools, I have been taking long drives around town with my disabled son Calvin and my dog Smellie. Almost daily, and usually before noon, we loop around on the same back roads taking in the scenery—rolling fields, salt marshes, tidal inlets, exquisite banks of oak, pine and birch which beckon and embrace me along Simpson’s Point, Pennellville, Maquoit, Bunganuc, Pleasant Hill and Rossmore Roads. It's very calming, and helps me pass the time during these long, monotonous days alone with my boy who can sometimes, if not often, feel impossible.
On one such drive a while back I caught sight of a runner a bit younger than I—tall, lean, focused, nimble—his face familiar from having seen him years ago while walking the dog at the college athletic fields. In some ways he reminds me of my former self—athletic, independent, driven, able to wander unencumbered.
Every so often I drive past the runner, my son in the backseat contorting himself as best he can to stare at the sun despite my efforts to cover the windows with towels and cloth shopping bags jammed into the tops of the back seat doors. Like my husband, the runner’s pace is brisk and efficient. Judging by the various points where I’ve seen him, it appears he runs quite far. I decide he must be a marathoner.
As a former hardcore swimmer who has swum thousands of grueling miles in pools, I find I prefer the ease and freedom of running. Regrettably, it has been years since I've made a habit of it, what with time constraints, a dog too old to jog beside me, a teenager who can’t be left by himself, harsh Maine winters and, now, the pandemic. Alas, I find myself again living vicariously through others. As the runner races by me, his chiseled face curiously calm, I begin to wonder. Has he explored the same panoramas where I yearn to roam and linger? Has he viewed vistas that I have missed in my limited circles? Does he ever stop to test the water, marvel at the mackerel sky, or notice the grace and beauty of a dormant forest? I wonder if he, too, is attempting to escape a hardship. What losses has he suffered? Is there anything that grieves him? How painful or rewarding is his endeavor?
In these sad pandemic times, when my natural penchant to mix with others has been so stifled, and when naked (maskless) faces are a rare sighting, I look forward to my daily drives. They allow me to escape my own petty or grievous worries by taking in gorgeous panoramas and, instead, contemplate the lives of others: the Carhartt man tethered to three brawny dogs who each yank him in a different direction; the salty old guy in neon regalia pushing his pedals against all kinds of weather; the crooked old lady clad neck to heel in black lycra doing her best version of jogging. And when the runner's eyes meet mine and he raises a hand as I pass, I feel—if only for an instant—somehow lighter.
One day, hopefully, the pandemic will be over. And when it is, my daily outings in the car will likely come to an end, and with them a most reliable method of escaping moments that can feel so lonely, confined and tiresome. Thank you, dear runner, and others, for the fleeting diversion you unwittingly give me.