The long walk, and the sounds of silence | Chuck's World


Last updated 5/17/2020 at 6pm

My shorts were right where I left them last fall, rolled up on a bottom shelf. The warm weather had sent me off on a scavenger hunt for comfortable clothes that didn't resemble pajamas. Call it a momentary spark of self-respect. It'll pass.

And, with emotion vacillating between serendipity and sheepishness, on that same shelf I found a half-hidden box of protective face masks. My sheepish side is strong, actually.

I bought them a year ago, when I was chauffeuring an immunocompromised friend back and forth from chemotherapy and other appointments. I got them back in the day when we could do things like that, walk into a drugstore and drop a couple of dollars on some reasonably effective disposable masks.

We've learned a lot about masks in the past few weeks, and a lot about a small slice of our fellow citizens who are upset about the tyranny of face coverings. For the rest of us, we now understand the point. If half of us wear masks in public places, we mitigate the spread of this virus. If all of us wear them, we win.

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If most of us eligible actually voted, we'd also win. Another subject.

Walking was what I was thinking about, and what those shorts reminded me of, along with May weather and sunny skies.

Because there's no getting away from a pandemic, and getting away is, I suspect, on all of our minds. For 10 weeks I've mostly stayed inside a two-mile radius around my home, walking little circles around my neighborhood, keeping my distance.

And remembering when I used to go further, and how one day it was pretty far.

My wife normally works a couple of days per week down in Renton, and on Wednesday nights she leads a choir rehearsal. The spring of 2015 was an unsettling time for me, and one day, riding home from the south Sound with her, I got a notion.

I'd been in the habit of occasionally heading off for long walks, upwards of 10 miles, and I was beginning to feel the urge to push myself. It was almost exactly 30 miles, my house to her office, and the sun seemed to be in the mood to shine. I mulled this over.

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And eventually I did it. One May morning, I headed out around 9 a.m., earbuds in, backpack loaded with trail mix and water.

I headed east and south until I hit the north end of Lake Washington, then continued through Kirkland and Bellevue, trudging across the Puget Sound region one step at a time over a very long spring day.

It took me a bit longer than I anticipated, and I didn't show up until choir rehearsal was over, just as dusk was settling in.

And as I turned down the last street, willing my legs to keep moving, I was greeted by a bevy of senior citizens, the ladies of the choir, serenading me and throwing an impromptu parade for this display of endurance and maybe psychosis.

I knew why I did it. I like to walk. I needed a challenge. And mostly, I needed to do something hard, because I had a feeling life was about to get hard and I needed to get better at that. I was correct.

This isn't about the walk, though. It's about the choir.

You may not be aware of this, with all the news and rumors swirling around at the moment, but I suspect we all realize that there are many victims of this virus, and more to come. Not just the sick ones – the small businesses, the millions of workers whose jobs may not magically reappear, the children missing out on crucial classroom time.

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There's plenty of misery to go around, and to eventually come around, but this one is personal.

There will be no more choirs.

That's the current feeling, anyway. Dozens or more people, standing a few feet away from audience members, respirating in unison, spraying microbes every which way? Music professionals are beginning to understand exactly what they're facing, and eventually the rest of us will, too.

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And not just singing. The Pledge of Allegiance. The Lord's Prayer, the seventh-inning stretch. Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks, but keep your mouth closed.

And it will be closed. Professionals I've read are talking about years without singing performances, including in churches.

This isn't speculation. It's a hard, careful look at scenarios, and whatever we do in terms of mitigation and easing up on the same, singing isn't coming back soon.

It was the juxtaposition of those shorts and extra masks that did it. It swept me back to another time, when half a dozen ladies sang "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow" as I lumbered down that last stretch, filling the night air with the sound of life, warm weather and a minor accomplishment.

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I'm tempted to make that hike again, but I think maybe I'll wait for a better time, when I can get another parade, when I can hear the sounds of love and joy from people I care about, and who care about me.

When we can safely sing again, spontaneously and at the top of our lungs.

And in the meantime, I'll settle for walking around the block, as I await a shipment of masks I've been expecting.

They all say "Vote" on them, which, as I mentioned, is how we will win.


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