Recently, just after sundown, my wife and I drove to Rockefeller Park where we used to walk our dogs before COVID-19. For several years, Kathy and I were guides at the Casements during the day. From about 6 to 8 p.m. virtually every night for years, we would walk typically through Rockefeller and the attached Fortunato Park, enjoying the boats and occasional dolphins and manatees in the Halifax River.
We developed friendships with many of the dog owners who joined us and loved the many trees, wide swaths of grass, benches and playground.
Kathy wanted to see the lights. Annually, the Casements gets all decorated for Christmas and hosts a fundraising gala that lasts two weeks. I always volunteered to help with the little two-car train which carried children around the park during the gale. Over the years, the Casements has added a giant Christmas tree and other decorations for the festive occasion.
This evening, the tree was brilliant in its usual white lights while the area contained many different displays and ornaments. As usual, the Casements was festooned with rows of colored lights.
Yet, it was all so different.
Only a few people were there, unlike the hundreds who came to the opening ceremony every year for the music, lights and food. We saw only one person with two dogs. I didn’t recognize him and then realized I couldn’t remember the names of many of the dogs. I could picture the animals, just not their names, although I could remember the owners. Of course, many dogs have died in the last year, just as our two did. I learned that through emails and calls, but had no way to share hugs. We warily avoided everyone. No more walking in groups and chatting. We noticed park improvements made in the nine months, but had to take a circuitous route to evade contact.
We talked to one woman about the stars. She was looking for the “star of Bethlehem,” the conjuncture of Jupiter and Saturn which supposedly forms a cross. We chatted at more than social distance,. The woman was as leery as we were.
On the ride home, we both recognized how much had changed since we went into isolation in March. We no longer hear from park friends. I call and write because that’s my nature. Most have moved on. They are pleasant enough if I reach them, but don’t call back or reach out. Now, we shy away from contact. We couldn’t even get close enough to pet a dog.
We enjoyed walking around both parks. It brought back such fond memories. Our stroll also reminded us how much we have lost in just a few months. I doubt we will ever be able to rebuild that community.