Social distancing while socially distant
Yesterday I went to the park.
It was a beautiful day, and the cherry blossom trees were in full bloom and sometimes the wind would kick up and send down beautiful drifts of petals. People were staying well apart from each other, in little groups, and I had a Double W Lemon Soda I wanted to sit and drink, but most of the benches were taken. And even though I, like everyone else, was wearing a mask, I didn't want to sit next to anyone and make them uncomfortable.
At the far end of the park, an elderly couple sat together on a bench. The older man had a guitar and was playing and singing, and the older woman was happily chatting with him and listening as he played. It was lovely. So I found a spot to sit on a low rock wall, several feet distant. I drank my lemon soda.
After he'd finished his song, the man and woman had a little conversation. Then the woman came over to where I was sitting and bent down to speak to me. She brought her masked face quite close and asked, with great enthusiasm and cheerfulness, if I had any requests. I felt suddenly awful. Her nearness made me nervous. And on top of that, I was mute. I couldn't respond to her kind social gesture in any meaningful way other than to smile and use the few complimentary Japanese words I know like "super!" and "beautiful!" to demonstrate my appreciation. I certainly didn't know any songs to request.
I did my usual bumbling foreigner bit, illustrating my helplessness with broad comic gestures, and the woman finally gave up. I wondered if maybe I'd misread the situation, maybe the guy was playing for tips. I looked for a tip container, but didn't see one.
The man started playing another song. "Edelweiss" from the Sound of Music (which, if I recall correctly, is one of the go-to "English" songs here in Japan--the other being, of course, "My Way" but this was a park, not a karaoke bar). Anyway, he played and sang in English, and I knew he was being incredibly kind, but I was just squirming. Should I sing along? Would that show appreciation? Or would it just seem another crass American attempt to butt in? So listened, clapped, then quickly got up to leave--thanking them both profusely, of course, as I did; bowing, all of that.
I really felt lousy because they were reaching out to me, trying to include me, and I ran away. I've been feeling weirdly guilty ever since. I really wish I could have talked with them. I'm sure we could have had a very interesting conversation. Or at the very least, I wish I could have told them how nice it was to see people smiling and hear someone singing a song. But in the end, all I could manage was an awkward, comic little dance.
It's tough, this social distance on top of social distancing. Being a foreigner who doesn't speak the language, who doesn't know which button to push or which tag to take at the supermarket, who doesn't fit in any situation--it's really like being the inhabitant of some kind of spirit realm. That feeling has definitely been coming out in my photography lately.
The feeling of being a ghost, kind of.
Isolation is hard, but isolation and alienation are a daunting combo. Sometimes that really strikes me.
P.S. I'm really enjoying my new fisheye lens. :-)