The weather is breaking. Winter loosens its grip (not that this past winter was particularly cold) and more often, I venture outside by choice rather than necessity. I am reminded of the pleasures of unhurried walking. Of moving slowly, at street-level, without the distractions of a phone or vehicle.

In February, Peter and I traveled to Toronto. We traveled miles on foot in a snowy city, from our hotel in the Yorkville neighborhood to the CN Tower to the Art Gallery of Ontario and back. It is a distance of about nine miles, broken up by coffee and lunch and sightseeing.  

The morning of the walk began quietly. Few people are outside, but gradually the number of pedestrians crescendos so that by nightfall, which comes early, the streets are bustling. Everyone is bundled up with hats and gloves; even some of the dogs wear coats.

At the top of the CN Tower, the views over Lake Erie are breathtaking. A small plane circles over Toronto Islands, descending, skimming the runway, and then lifting off again. I hear voices speaking in languages other than English, and I smile. This is my first international trip since the pandemic. It is strangely comforting to be back among the tourists.

Squads of families roam the galleries of the Art Gallery of Ontario (or AGO, as its more locally known). The noise creates a pleasant background ruckus as Peter and I spend an afternoon discovering Canadian artists that were completely new to us. In between gazing at the artwork, I take to looking at people looking at art. This always fascinates me: what they notice, what they pass by, and the differences between the way adults and children behave.

On our walks, Peter and I passed storefronts and academic buildings and lampposts covered in handbills. There was the pharmacy, brightly lit by the afternoon sun, with a technician’s white lab coat flung across a chair. On the university campus, printed flyers announced sexual health week, advertised tutors, and promoted a philosophy discussion group. In the digital age, where information travels instantly in bits and bytes, perhaps paper still matters.

These are little moments, little kernels of stories that exist in a flash. Kernels that might become something more if we let them.


Pittsburgh, PA. Corner of 22nd and Penn.

Back in Pittsburgh, my home city, I start to see things I hadn’t noticed before, like the sign on the door of a Polish deli cautioning shoppers to “watch your dupa.”

Being outside of a car brings you into contact with things. With people. On the T one morning, I’m sitting next to a young mother with a squirming toddler on her lap. I offer her my seat, so she can have her little boy beside her, but she declines. He is fussing, and she is alternately chiding him and attempting to distract him by talking about what can be seen from the trolley’s window.

I think of everything that must be done to get a small child out of the house in the morning: the waking up, the feeding, the dressing, the finding of socks and shows. Brushing of hair and teeth. I want to tell her that she’s doing a great job. But I don’t; unsolicited commentary from a stranger, no matter how well-intentioned, could feel presumptuous.

On an afternoon a few days later, I’m walking the streets near my office, which happens to be near the location of a Planned Parenthood clinic. There is a small group of protestors clustered outside. I see the signs and flyers and want to tell them that Planned Parenthood focuses far more on pregnancy prevention than pregnancy termination. I want to say that they have it twisted, that this is a health clinic and not an abortion factory. I want to say that they should consider finding something else to do instead of hassling a woman trying to get a friggin’ PAP smear on her lunch break.

Confrontation is not compassion, and brochures and Bible verses are not what’s needed. But I don’t say anything, and I walk on.

I think of the age of the city, of the footsteps of those who walked here before me. The natives and the explorers and the soldiers. I think of the people around me now, of the space we share and the slices of time where, just for a moment, we might glimpse a world outside of ourselves.

And I walk on.

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