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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Thinking on your feet

University parking garage, sometime home to unusual social gatherings. —
University parking garage, sometime home to unusual social gatherings. — Russell Wangersky/SaltWire Network

I walk.

I walk to make my head stop spinning around. Ridiculous distances: Saturday, almost 20 kilometres. Sunday, 15 more. It takes that far to get tired enough to reduce my spinning thoughts to simply putting each foot ahead of the last.

I’m out in the emptiness of pre-spring St. John’s, the cold, the wet, the unforgiving wind. Physical distancing? I stay away from everybody, cross the street to avoid what scattered, chin-tucked-in walkers there are. Not that there’s many out there anyway — and they avoid me as much as I avoid them.

On one empty sidewalk, a bright blue corner of a $5 bill, stuck down to the pavement with melting ice. Just that one single corner. Occasional sprays of broken-off car parts from the winter’s fender-benders. Small alluvial plains of the winter-silt in the curb gutters that haven’t been carried away by the melt. Anything different that serves to grab my attention and move it away from the whirl.

Are there wonders? Yes. Watching from a distance as two well-spread-apart men sorted out which one of the two would board a St. John’s Metrobus that already had eight passengers on board — the buses are limited to 10 people now, including the driver — was a marvel of everyone trying to put each other first.

And walking through what’s now an abandoned university parking garage, I heard unexpected voices. I came around a pillar to find five small SUVs organized like synchronized swimmers, all nosed outwards in a loosely formed star with their back hatches open. In each hatch, a young woman, wrapped in blankets, all of them having a lengthy long-distance discussion with each other. A get-together without being too close together.

I like the resiliency, the problem-solving, the finding new ways to be physically distant while still maintaining the social connection that is the fabric of humanity.

But that doesn’t help me to stop walking. I’ve ranged through the downtown and out into the suburbs, charting long walks before I go and then extending them even further while I’m out there, trying to make the pieces fit together about how to protect family and friends, how to continue. How all of us continue, faced with a threat that, right now, is exhaustingly almost all about the impending. I’m a worrier by nature, a middle-of-the-night-awake catastrophizer, prone to working over any problem with any tool I can find until it’s finally beaten into submission, or I’m beaten into exhaustion.

I think the problem is that I don’t have the tools to handle this — I don’t even know what those tools might be.

And neither does anyone else.

I can’t fix anything. Normally, even if it’s far-fetched, I can work out a solution by walking through things. Sometimes I think it’s that, with your lungs searching for air, your eyes keeping your feet from tripping and your senses alert for everything from traffic to loose dogs, you’re forced to grind things down to their simplest equations, because that’s all the space you have left in your head.

But some problems defy solution, no matter how much effort you bring to bear.

I’m a worrier by nature, a middle-of-the-night-awake catastrophizer, prone to working over any problem with any tool I can find until it’s finally beaten into submission, or I’m beaten into exhaustion.

Right now, where I am, the trees are gnashing with ice from the freezing rain, the sky is a matte grey sheet. And that doesn’t help.

I am sure I’m not alone.

Actually, I know for a fact I’m not alone, and that, out there, solutions whirl, problems get solved, people work to exhaustion, go to bed, wake up and do it all over again. That, beyond politics, there are people being the absolutely best at what they can be, and at what they can do.

Right now, I can only walk.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at [email protected] — Twitter: @wangersky.


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