The Great Divide

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On weekends, my husband and I often walk about a mile and a half into town and back. It’s great exercise. It’s nice to be out in the fresh air. We like seeing our neighbourhood in slow motion once in a while, which makes a difference to our usual drive-by. We stop and have a coffee when we get there and contemplate which route we’re going to take back and basically solve all our problems.

The shortest way to walk there is through a wooded common, and we often see other walkers and runners here as there is no traffic to be concerned about. Of course we inevitably meet many dog-walkers as well.

My question is this. At what point in that walk does it become not-okay to smile and greet someone?

I noticed yesterday that in the first ten to fifteen minutes in our walk, we made eye contact with everyone. There were always polite and sometimes even warm greetings of “Good morning” exchanged. One elderly woman commented on the lovely weather (there had to be one).

But when we got close to the town centre, I noticed a runner moving towards us, so I locked my eyes on him as he got near, ready to pass on a silent “WAY TO GO” look. And as the smile was just starting on my face, he looked away and just ran straight past us! I then had that jolt of rejection – the proverbial slap in the face.

I somehow managed to keep my disappointment in check and carried on walking to the coffee shop. While sipping my chamomile brew, I thought about what had just happened. If I had driven to the same location and passed a runner between the car park and the coffee shop, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed him, let alone feel slighted by his indifference.

So where do you cross that invisible divide of ‘these are all my friends walking around me’ and ‘I don’t want to make eye contact with anyone’? I leave the house and I know I am surrounded by comfort. How far away from that starting point does it begin to become a more hostile environment?

I think I will have to conduct a surveillance mission over the summer to see where that line falls. I may even erect a sign marking that spot. Or maybe I’ll just got some dark sunglasses to put on to avoid another faux pas.

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