Strangers and physical distancing and a picturebook

Thinking about all this “social” or “physical” distancing. And my picturebook, A Little House in a Big Place.

What is the story about? For me, the genesis of the theme of the story was the moment I began to think about the question: What happens when we “connect” with someone we might never actually meet? The moment when we look up and someone is giving us a wide and genuine smile…their face is utterly open, their eyes are saying, “Hey! I accept that you are in my world, and I LIKE that you are in my world! It’s OUR world! Have a GREAT day!”

And then they just go on with their day, walking away down the sidewalk, or stepping off the bus, or making lazy circles on their bicycle, and you—or I—go on with our day. Maybe on our bicycle. Or roller-blades.

What does it mean?

It might mean that we are all human. And we recognize that. “Hey! You are just like me! And I see you!”

And really, that makes us feel good. We can put a big word on it, like “recognized.” Or “validated.” But that’s the same thing as “feel good.”

In my picturebook, a train engineer waves to a girl every morning. Every morning, his train passes behind her house, and she waves to the engineer from her window. Later, when she grows up, she ventures out into the world, heading east on a …you guessed it…train. Out to explore the world.

When my sons were little, I blundered into all the pressure to tell children not to talk to strangers. What was that about, I wondered, and found myself hesitating to give this admonishment. Really, it was good meet people, in the park, the beach, the bird santuary—once we met a very keen bird photographer, who showed us the photos he was taking of an enormous bird of prey. I think of all the lives into which we would not have had glimpses had we paid attention to the “don’t talk” rule.

Of course, we want our children to be safe. But what does that mean? Do we not expect them to talk to OTHER HUMANS as they get older? How do we explain—at some later point (like when we take them to daycare, or school, and seemingly abandon them to strangers for the bulk of the day—that “strangers” are other people, and it is a good thing to talk with people, to smile at them, to include them in our lives in one way or another.

In fact, some day, a former stranger might be one’s best friend. A former stranger might become a brother or sister-in-law. Or we might even marry or partner with a stranger. Really…in all likelihood, you will. Ha. Funny thought.

So…how do we meet strangers? How do we let them know we see them? That we recognize that we are all human…

And now we are imagining a couple of yardsticks between our selves and other individuals—2 metres or 6 feet.

Makes me think of Joni Mitchell’s song “Come in From the Cold,” and the lyrics about “back in 1957….”

But even 6 or 8 feet away, you are still able to smile with your mouth and your eyes.

Even if you are holding your breath!