How Do You Say?

I am walking at Lake Johnson at 5:45 this morning. It is a beautiful spring day with pink clouds just beginning to form. I have the lake, trees and blue heron all to myself, so I’m not wearing my mask. I walk for ten, fifteen minutes and never see a soul.

Then in the far distance I hear, then see, the caravan of seven men walking towards me in twos and threes. I see them every morning.

They walk briskly, in the same cadence, a few feet apart; make fast, dramatic gestures, talk very loudly. They turn their heads towards each other when they talk and bow their heads when not speaking, studying the ground. The men bound towards me in their expensive looking tennis shoes, full of vigor and verve as if they were still young. Each morning their vitality wakes me up, enlivens me.

Why has this group of men come to intrigue me over the last few weeks? Why do I smile every time I see them way off in the distance?

Is it their consistency and commitment to being out together every morning? Like church, like mosque? Is it their engagement, the focused attention they give each other, as if nobody else existed? Maybe it’s their enthusiasm: their sonorous voices debating in a language I don’t understand, full of vowels. Somehow, they embody a sense of unselfconsciousness, a bond of familial solidarity. Something I’m not used to. I imagine them pillars of their community, good men, grandfathers, uncles, men of faith.

As they get close, I step off the path into the woods as usual to let them pass. I want to be safe from the virus. But today I feel annoyed with them, unseen, as if I don’t have a right to be there. My jaw clenches. How can they march right past me each morning as if I were invisible? Stomach tightens. Why don’t I have the guts to say something, to ask them to step aside? I think of all the times in my woman’s life I’ve yielded, deferred and given way.

For a split second, I feel the presence of my yoga poses: dignified mountain, exhaling lion, fearless warrior. I sense myself taller, wide, strong. I remember the magnet on my fridge: “Speak, though your voice shakes.” My heartbeat speeds up. I take a deep breath in and step forward towards the first men in the caravan.

 “Good morning gentlemen.” They nod, keeping their stride. “Excuse me, please. Do you think you could possibly go into single file?” Blank stares. “When I’m walking towards you?” The men look puzzled. Perhaps they don’t speak English. “You know,” I say, opening my arms wide, “Social distance… six feet….” 

The man who is always ahead looks full at my face, then at the man a few feet to his side. “We are six feet apart,” he says frowning. 

“No!” I say. “Not him. Me!” My right hand is vigorously tapping my breastbone. “Six feet for me!”

“Oh!” A polite nod, an imperceptible bow, a hint of a smile. “Ah! Okay.”  The men behind him spread out into a single file. Nod silently as they walk past. Eyes down, bowed heads.

“Thank you very much,” I say, hand on my heart, armpits damp, legs slightly shaking. “We really appreciate it.” For some reason, I couldn’t say “I.”

Once the last man has passed a good way, a deep exhale releases from my lungs. Tears begin to flow down my cheeks. I step off the path and turn to the water’s edge surrounded by tall trees. I stand still and gaze at the blue grey heron. Adrenaline pumps through my veins. Muscles pumped. Delicious smile on my face. Heroic mountain pose.

The following week, I am sitting on a bench at the lake meditating at dawn. I hear “my men” before I see them. They are striding across the dam. I am glad to have dodged them, but I do feel a fondness for them. I see two women walking towards them. Without missing a beat, the men step gracefully into single file on one side as the women step sideways to the other. It looks like a rehearsed ballet. I chuckle and take a breath of gratitude. My meditation turns graceful.

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Are there places or relationships where it is difficult for you to speak up? Noticing and acknowledging can be a helpful awareness practice. If you have a story where you spoke up in a way that took courage, please feel free to share with me. You can email me.

And I’d love any thoughts or feedback on this topic. I won’t post any comments without your permission. 

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