Early this morning I walked the path of the parkway near our home, along the Menomonee River, as I’ve done many times.
Far ahead were two figures, standing, facing each other at opposite sides of the paved, 10-foot wide path. Also on the path, a few walkers, runners and bikers were coming towards me.
Walking, I thought about my plans for the day. Not so much what I would do, but what I wouldn’t.
Today I would not teach an aqua class at the YMCA, or a tai chi or yoga class either.
A couple walked past. I glanced at them, lifted a hand, and they did the same. My lips silently formed the words “good morning”. So did theirs.
I eyed the figures, still far ahead, still facing each other at opposite sides of the path. Two men, talking and gesticulating.
A runner came by, avoiding eye contact. So did a dog walker, although I smiled at the dog when it looked my way.
As I got a little closer to the talking men, my eyes measured the distance between them. They were at a socially acceptable distance from each other. If I walked between them at the center of the path, I would not be.
Should I walk around one of them? How far around? I still had time to decide.
Today was also not a day I would be volunteering at the library. I would not be lunching with a friend, or handing out early voting flyers at the DMV. I would not be going to my favorite coffee shop to write my blog, or catching a movie at the cinema in the mall.
As I walked closer to the men, they each moved back, on to the grass, widening their distance by several feet. My decision made, I walked down the center of the path between them.
Not talking now, they each waved and smiled, then resumed their conversation as I walked by. I couldn’t make out a single word, but I had no doubt what they were discussing.
And then I understood. Today would be the day I'd help create a way of interacting with others, of living in this world. A new etiquette, as we walked this familiar but surreal new path.