There he was. Just a kid, maybe 11 or 12. Walking alone on a cold, sunny Saturday afternoon. His head was down, hooded, maybe to keep out the late winter wind; maybe just to protect him from having to engage with others.
It’s a posture that has become everyday, dare I say normal; slumped shoulders, hands in front, holding something, a body and mind engrossed in whatever was happening not much farther than the tip of his nose, oblivious to anything happening outside that tiny radius; front, back or to the side.
I first saw him as we made the turn out of our subdivision and onto a path that runs parallel to a four-lane road. I was walking the dog, who at the time – just like the kid -- was also concentrating on something not two feet in front of her own nose and equally oblivious to the outside world.
Still 50 yards or so away but approaching quickly, Sadie and I moved to one side of the path to avoid a collision of the two worlds (a guy walking an old, blind dog and a tunnel-visioned tween).
I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t want to startle him, and since the path seemed wide enough that the two parties could pass one another without incident, it seemed appropriate to simply let this sleeping dog lie (or in our case, the sniffing dog sniff).
I wondered facetiously to myself if that “slouchy, head down, hands in front of body” position would ever be included as part of the “Human Evolution” chart, maybe indicating the start of the downward path of the evolutionary bell curve that will ultimately land us back on all fours.
I often hear comments about kids who are always buried in their devices. Funny how it usually comes from people a full generation, or more, older who are equally obsessed with own devices; they just do it more discreetly, or with feigned exasperation, pretending like their phone or tablet is a necessary evil forced upon them by a younger relative … or society.
People like me.
Truth is, we’re all more preoccupied with this stuff than we used to be. It’s life, maybe evolution at work. Or something else. Nonetheless, it was coming toward us, and we toward it.
But then, as we got closer, I noticed the kid wasn’t holding a phone, he was reading a book, a library book, nonetheless. I identified it as such as the sunlight hit the shiny, clear plastic protective cover only seen on books from the library.
About 15 feet before we passed one another, he looked up. “Oh, hi, I’m … excuse me … I’m sorry,” he said sheepishly, as though I’d caught him doing something illegal or inappropriate. He immediately stepped to the side, giving us more room than we needed.
“No problem. I didn’t mean to startle you,” I responded, truly apologetic and now regretting that I hadn’t cleared my throat or said something to provide a subtle warning of our presence. “Hope it’s a good book. Be careful crossing the streets. A lot of drivers around here don’t watch for pedestrians,” I added. He smiled and continued walking and reading, and after some serious sniffing, Sadie decided it was time for us to move on as well.
For the next few minutes, I thought about what I observed, and it made me think of the power of perception, and how discovering the kid was reading a book – and not something on his phone – could completely change someone’s perception of him. For me, it didn’t matter. I don’t tend to criticize “kids these days” for the typical things “kids these days” do. That’s every generation, dating back to when we were still walking on all fours, and I often remind myself that years ago, I too, was one of those “kids these days.”
What I appreciated was the tiny, simple moment we had, greeting one another, respecting each other’s space as equals (though our ages might suggest otherwise) and then, moving on with our respective days. No judgment, no hassle.
And, it made me smile, on a day, and in a time in our world when we have so many reasons not to smile.
Sadie and I had a good walk, two old dogs strolling through the neighborhood, hoping the coming days would bring warm, Spring weather, and they will. And I hope that kid enjoyed his book and the rest of his day, too.
You know, it wasn’t that long ago I could have been that kid, reading a book while walking on a path, oblivious to anything going on in the outside world.
(Kids these days.)
© 2020 David R. Haznaw