Last summer, my husband got into the habit of taking walks by himself after dinner. He’s always in “steps” competition with himself, but it was more than that: he wanted some moments of quiet, wanted to shake off that feeling of cooped-up-ness that we all have come to know well since last March. Only thing is, once winter came and the days got shorter, these walks were in darkness, and, sure, reflective gear, but, still. I worried that he’d trip on an uneven sidewalk or tweak an almost-middle-aged knee or God forbid worse, whatever “worse” might be. “No one in this house is going to the ER!” I’ve been shouting at my family daily for the past ten months — haven’t we all? — and I’d say this to my husband every time he headed out at night. A friendly reminder-slash-threat.
So, for Hanukkah, I bought for him — among other things — a headlamp. My kids giggled when he tried it on and everyone acted like it was a semi-gag gift. But far from it. In these times, especially, you try to control the very few things you can control, and if an ounce of real or imagined reassurance can be purchased online for $15, I was sure as hell going to do it. And he’s been wearing it. He feels a little silly in it (fine) and feels bad about blinding oncoming cars with the intense beam (whoops), but he likes it. He’s also used it to grill in the backyard and search for things in our messy, poorly lit garage.
But, as it turns out, this gift is unexpectedly changing my life. I’ve started using it to walk and run at night myself, and the opportunity to wander a well-lit path after dark has been weirdly thrilling, simply because there is now a portal to somewhere else during these anxious, tedious, Groundhog Day-ish days. My neighborhood — whose every physical detail I’ve now memorized after all these months of overuse — is completely different at night. The air feels and smells different, the streets look different, the sounds are different… and this micro-dose of newness is as enlivening to me as anything right now. My mind can relax since I don’t have to constantly dodge other pedestrians and bikers, and the quiet soothes my soul. Most nights I can even hear leaves rustle against leaves, which is my absolute favorite sound on earth.
But mostly, it’s this: Like many parents in pandemic times, I am joined at the hip with my kids, ongoingly and without breaks, save for sleeping. School is at home, work is at home, and my little family of four is tethered to one another ’round the clock; we are each other’s schoolmates and playmates and dinner dates and movie dates, all the roles kneaded into one. Of course those of us in this boat know just how very fortunate we are, but that’s not the same thing as thriving. Walking at night let’s me feel away. When I’m moving through the darkness, I am a human adult; I am not a parent, because I am not anything. I have no roles and no jobs, other than to follow the stream of light unfurling in front of me. Plus, being out after dark jolts my sense memory to the Before Times: tipsy late night walks home from a restaurant, carrying wine and fruit salad up to the front door of a friend’s yellow-lit home, pulling into my driveway at dusk after a day at the office.
It’s bittersweet and invigorating, both, to flash back to the days of footloose-and-fancy-free, but as I see it, a reminder of Before Times means that surely somewhere on the horizon will appear an After Times. Doesn’t it? And by the time I walk up my driveway and reach for the front door, I can hear my pajama-ed kids thumping around inside, and I’m ready to tuck them into bed, then do another day.
Oh and this is the one here. Good things…small packages.