OFF TOPIC: Walking the walk while talking the talk

Regular excercise with social interaction still possible – and necessary

I’m not a big hugger by nature, but by the time all this social distancing madness is over, I suspect I’ll be handing them out the way Oprah gives away cars – You get a hug! You get a hug! EVERYBODY GETS A HUG!!

Speaking as a semi-recluse, the solitude of the COVID-19 lockdown has been tough enough to bear, so I can’t imagine how difficult it is for the social butterflies among us to have had their colourful wings clipped, forcing them to stick close to home and limit their visits with friends to virtual chitchats and the occasional across-the-lawn shout-talk.

I’ve seen the latter happening here and there as the weather warms up and I head out a few times a week to walk with a friend. Before anyone fires off an angry email to the physical-distancing police, just hold your horses (the aforementioned officers will still allow that).

On fine evenings, I trot out the door, insert my earbuds and set out for a long walk. I’m sure, to the casual observer, I look like a lunatic, talking away to myself and, occasionally bursting into fits of laughter. Whenever I do get a sideways glance or raised eyebrow, I usually just smile and wave. Only if someone tries to answer me, do I explain that the earbuds are attached to the phone in my pocket and I’m that actually talking to a friend. She, meanwhile, is out hiking up and down the hills of White Rock on her own.

That’s what she tells me, at least. For all I know, she could be lounging in a deck chair, playing street-noise sound effects in the background and occasionally hitting the mute button as she stuffs a handful of Doritos in her mouth. I doubt it, but she’d be the first to admit that it’s not impossible.

The tele-walk™, is not a perfect system. Sometimes we get cut off and, occasionally, one of us ends up listening to half a conversation going on at the other end of the line when the other runs into someone we know. But just as for the front-yard yell-talkers, I imagine, these conversations – despite all appearances to the contrary – are actually saving my sanity.

Some people have stitch-and-bitch, we have walk-and-squawk.

In recent days, I’ve noticed more of us harmless loons roaming my neighbourhood, talking to thin air – people staying connected while remaining safely apart.

Something else I encountered along my route – and this is where I channel my inner ‘nosy neighbour peering through the blinds’ – was one specific group of people who were in no way observing the rules of physical distancing.

As this gaggle (giggle?) of teenage girls strolled along in a tight pack on the sidewalk opposite me, they passed around a phone, delighting in some hilarious joke – literally rubbing shoulders as they went.

It’s possible these girls all live in the same house, but it seems unlikely.

Maybe they didn’t get the memo about the whole two-metre thing. It seems quite a few of them are not.

I know as a teenager, I wasn’t glued to the nightly news or (as much as I hate to admit it) picking up a newspaper with any frequency. I don’t believe they’re scrolling news sites or hanging out with their moms on Facebook where – and I think science will back me up on this – 30 per cent of the social ‘shame game’ plays out amidst the cat memes (for the other 70 per cent, check Twitter).

So how do we get the message across, if ignorance is, in fact, responsible for some teens’ collective bliss when it comes to the gravity of COVID-19?

The answer may lie in the palm of our hands. It’s been suggested to me – and I’ve since read the idea other places – that best way send a message to teenagers is to splash it across their cellphone screens, over and over. Seems like a good idea, since that’s the one place we know they’re looking. The technology exists, of course. Fan-out alerts are sent to every device across a wide area in the event of a tsunami warning or if a child goes missing, so why not here, too?

Who knows, it might just be crazy enough to work.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.

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