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“Social Distancing” by Maxine Cowan


On 68th Avenue, between 93rd and 99th Streets, is a double sided walkway. It’s for people, bikes, e-bikes—unfortunately, dogs—plenty of them, large and small, well behaved and not so much, sometimes leashed but usually not. There have been no cats, at least not so far, and always, there are lots of kids—on skateboards, bikes or just shuffling home from school, backpacks securely strapped.


I was sitting on one of many benches strategically located along the route when I noticed a young boy coming toward me, on my side of the path. He was no more than ten and I have no idea which part of me he noticed first, the grey hair under my baseball cap, the cane propped against the bench, but within ten feet and seconds after noticing me, he quietly walked to the far edge the walkway, close to the grass, and stayed there for another 30-40 feet.


I had been seen and respected by a kid. But it was when I saw his heritage that I broke into tears. He was Indigenous. He didn’t openly acknowledge me. He didn’t smile, or make eye contact. It was as if what he did was for himself out of self respect, respect for his grandparents, his elders. He just slightly dropped his head and walked quietly past in the same manner he had come toward me. But as he did, I could feel the power of his consciousness, his awareness of himself, me, his surroundings and the depth (at ten!) of his culture and the importance of dignity and respect. Over the months of COVID I’ve been passed by hundreds of kids, but none like this, and although it may seem like a small gesture, I was deeply moved.


However, in my experience during COVID, distancing and respect have been hit and miss. Being spatial, I know what two meters looks like, but what does it take for others to imagine it? I’ve asked that question a lot as people crowd nearby, absent-minded to anything, let alone distance and respect. And so when a kid gets it, what does that say about the rest of us? Are we talking honestly to ourselves about this pandemic, let alone our kids? And who talked to this young boy? Who gave him permission to wake up to himself and others? Who knew that through respect for him and honouring his right to self respect, it would automatically translate into respect for others?


Who, other than informed scientists and healthcare workers, have a broad-enough perspective on this pandemic and virus to know none of us are cocooned in bubble wrap. We’re all vulnerable, and so with health authorities pounding the facts, what’s wrong with us when only one small kid gets it? What does it say about the rest of us as cases and deaths escalate? Without some trace of consciousness and a presumed ability to think, too many of us are not capable of imagining distance or respect.


I’ve always loved the phrase that, “Truth is relative.” No, truth is not relative, it’s consciousness that is relative and if ever there was a time for both truth and consciousness, it might be now.

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