Turn right at the end of my driveway and walk up a gentle hill, and you will come to a path leading to a bridge overarching a brook that runs through a swath of wetlands. When you reach that bridge, you are standing at the intersection of two worlds – the everyday world of human comings and goings and the secret lair of untamed nature, a green thoroughfare for deer, muskrat, and other woodland creatures.
Sometimes, these two worlds connect in surprising ways. Once, a young, disoriented moose wandered off course and created a traffic jam on a nearby highway. The human world came to its rescue when the town police set it back on the trail to its home in the north woods. Disconnected from its traveling companions, the moose had lost its way somewhere in my neighborhood. I think I know how he felt.
Not long ago, after too many months of pandemic restrictions and a brief reprieve of almost back to normal, I was also feeling a bit disconnected. It didn’t help that I had spent the better part of the past three days on the phone with the technical support team for my laptop. As pleasant and knowledgeable as these folks can be, it’s not the same as talking to a friend. And even with friends, video chatting is not the same as meeting in person.
So, I resigned myself once again to the new normal and spent two more hours shopping online for a dehumidifier, waiting for another tech specialist to tell me which one would best meet our needs and then, yes of course, getting disconnected. In the end, I bought the one I liked in the first place.
It was then that I decided to clear my head with a walk to the bridge and back home again the long way around. It was a beautiful day, 20 degrees cooler and half as humid as the previous three, when temperatures reached the high 90s and the air was as thick as soup. At the bridge, there were no deer, muskrat, or moose in sight, just a Monarch butterfly on its way to Mexico, the chirp of crickets, the smell of wildflowers, and the gurgle of clear water sliding over rocks in the stream.
After a quick stop to take in the scene, I was soon at the end of the path and on the dead-end street that runs behind our house. As I was walking around a car parked almost in the middle of the road, the driver rolled down her window.
“Do you live in the neighborhood?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied and pointed in the direction of the street parallel to the one we were on. “Can I help you find an address?”
“No,” she answered and, gesturing to the man sitting beside her, said that his grandmother used to live in the house she indicated just across the street. The woman said they were in the area and thought they would visit some of the places they knew when they were younger. We introduced ourselves and launched into a long conversation that showed how close their world and mine really were.
The husband, let’s call him Bill, grew up in the next town over and visited his grandmother here in a house later occupied by close friends of ours when our children were little. He was 80-years-old and remembered my street as an especially good place for trick-or-treating when he was a kid. The street did Halloween big when we moved in 40 years ago, and its passion for the holiday has only grown in the decades since. I am not sure how the Halloween tradition has been passed on through so many generations, but it is heartening to know that it not only survives but thrives.
As we talked, I mentioned that I was from New Jersey and that our son lived there now. Bill’s wife, let’s call her Kathy, said that one of their sons lives in New Jersey too, as it turns out, in a town near our son’s.
“I’ll bet your son moved there because he met a girl from Jersey,” Kathy ventured. “That’s what happened to our son. He and his wife met in college.” It was the same college our son attended.
I mentioned a daughter in Colorado. “What part?” Kathy asked. I named the town and, of course, it was the same town where another one of their sons had moved for his career.
She asked about the insignia on the cap I was wearing, and I told them about a ship modeling club I belonged to and about a model of an historic boat that a friend was building. They lived on the coast now and knew the boat well, even telling me about the availability of plans from an earlier restoration.
We parted with an exchange of emails and casual invitations to continue our conversation sometime in the future. When I got home, my wife asked if I was still feeling disconnected, and I had to say no though I’m not sure if anything really changed.
Joy and sorrow continue their balancing act in our lives. The pandemic lingers, governments topple, hurricanes and earthquakes take their toll in human suffering, and we remain vulnerable in the face of life’s uncertainties. This is the world we inhabit, but it helps to know that it is also the world we share. Sometimes, all it takes is a chance meeting with someone whose world connects with ours to remind us of this simple truth.