As we stroll along the sidewalks, we do-si-do with runners, dog walkers and passers-by who wave as they dart off our path. We share homemade challah, buttermilk scones and dahlia tubers with next-door neighbors, and they in turn share fresh-laid eggs from their five chickens whose cackling makes us smile. Meanwhile, the neighbor on the other side asks for our shopping lists as he heads to the markets, and every time our tenant goes to Costco, he picks up an extra rotisserie chicken for us.
“It’s my treat,” he tells us. Later, he will leave me discarded chicken bones for the soup I make almost weekly.
These days, we are the vulnerable ones, the aging folks who will continue to shelter in place even as the world opens up for those who are younger and fitter. Cruises, let alone overseas adventures, are out of the question. Our March trip to Greece and Israel was canceled two weeks before our departure. A college reunion in Ohio was called off, along with myriad graduations. I had bought a new dress and had it altered for a June wedding in New Hampshire that did not happen.
Season tickets to opera and theater have turned into donations. Our choir performances at nursing homes and senior residences may never recur. We attend remote choir rehearsals on Zoom, where time distortions preclude a harmonious blend, forcing us to silence ourselves while singing. We gladly greet one another’s postage-stamp images, but we cannot touch, cannot hug, cannot hear each other sing. On Friday nights, we chant the prayers as our rabbi and cantor lead us — via a laptop on the dining room table. But we can’t invite our friends to Shabbat dinner.
Yet as our physical world has shrunk, and we rarely venture beyond walking distance, our eyes have opened wider to our immediate world, taking in sights we barely noticed. The neighbors we once waved to perfunctorily as we pulled cars out of the driveway are now friends. Like pioneer families of old, we are in this adventure together, and we are interdependent. Will these relationships hold in better times? That remains to be seen.
As our streets have grown quieter, with fewer cars on the road, fewer planes in the air, we inhale the jasmine in the evening air and hear the birds. We take in the accidental tangle of red-violet sweet peas and lemon-yellow nasturtiums climbing on the side of the house, the redwood grove nearby, the chalk drawings on the sidewalk where kids play hopscotch, just as we once did.
In our unwanted staycation, the garden thrives, and we savor homegrown herbs and lettuces. With no place to go, the car rarely leaves the driveway and everything moves more slowly. As horizons narrow, we discover a neighborhood and a homeland we always had and never knew.