chris I've been going on hour-long afternoon walks around Lake Merritt since the coronavirus came to town. I use the time to listen to recordings of humans discussing this or that and to observe people coping with an altogether unfamiliar atmosphere of uncertainty.
It feels sparse, walking around the lake, like how it feels in August when the Bay Area retreats to the Nevada desert for Burning Man and you can get a table at one of those fancy restaurants that are otherwise booked solid. But people haven’t vacated the city. They’ve been ordered to shelter in place, in their homes and apartments, cloistered in with loved ones or others they happen to co-reside with. We're all playing a personal game of hide and seek with a predator that none of us can see. We hunker down in the closet, under the bed, or in whichever metaphorical hiding spot we've found ourselves in and fastidiously avoid detection.
At my Whole Foods, there is now a line to enter that stretches halfway down the block. Patrons fidget nervously, six feet apart. Where there were previously three entrances there is now only one for flow control of entrance and egress. In the checkout line, shoppers fidget impatiently, single file and six feet apart, in imaginary zones of protection demarcated by blue masking tape. The checkout staff wear masks and surgical gloves; clear plastic sheeting to separate us hasn’t yet been installed. The baggers are imperiled, their station keeping them leashed within two feet of someone else at all times.
On my home where the lake’s concrete boardwalk narrows, I hold my breath when I walk by someone else, and secretly hope they do the same. When I was 10 and rode the bus to school and passed by the cemetery I held my breath then, too. I didn't want to suck up some meandering soul and get haunted. Similarly, I don't want that to happen now, either.
chris One of my favorite aspects of being on my #MessinaOdyssey is exploring new places and randomly stumbling upon confounding and collaborative evidence of human presence.
Today I explored the beach area near Paia Bay. Not only did I discovered a nude beach (surprise! 🤗) and a turn of turtles swimming out along the coastline (with a few breakaways beached on the shore), but I also found this forest with two concrete foundations about 30 yards from this collection of upright concrete pillars that had been turned into what appeared to be tokens for remembering friends and lost loved ones. Scattered throughout the forest were smaller offerings and ceremonial piles of stones and fruit and hand painted signs rejuvenating the dead.
These symbolic assemblies struck me as belonging to a common human behavior: that wherever there might be a place of respite where passersby may stroll, we affixx beacons of past presence to connect the living with realms beyond. I've felt this at the temple at Burning Man, and when I walked in acemeteryy in Zurich, and when I walked the streets of Tel Aviv.
Certainly this observation isn't new, but the regularity with which I've encountered these sites is striking to me. Although these monuments are made to assist people through the pain of loss, and to stoke the embers of recollection, what is the role of the passerby? Is it simply to observe and bear witness, or is it to put psychic energy into a story, true or not, to keep the essence of humanity, forgiveness, and reflection, in tact?