May 29, 2020, 05:57AM

Moment of Accidental Normalcy

Handshakes and apologies.

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This weird pandemic transitional phase between the full grips of terror and lockdown and the freedom to fully “move about the cabin” are bizarre. Different parts of the country and world have varying sets of rules. On social media, people who judged harshly and bossed people to stay home are sometimes the same people now demanding it’s time to set us free and open everything. It’s tricky knowing when to wear masks or when it’s okay to take them off outdoors—of course I am compliant at all times, but it’s hot out, they fog up my glasses, and oh my God I don’t want to complain about wearing them or else I will end up like that awful Karenasaurus. Seems to be a “wear it around your neck until someone approaches wearing one” state of affairs, out in nature anyway.

The other day I was on a remote beach, alone, in the middle of nowhere. The only encounters I had that day were with a fisherman who wore a mask, even alone, reminding me how much I miss seeing people smile as I walked by safely far more than six feet away, and then a pair of kayakers, noteworthy for the very expensive-looking kayaks I had noticed on the shore.

None of us wore masks, as I imagine none expected to see another human for a mile much less six feet. I was beachcombing and so were they, though they turned out to be more casual beachcombers taking a break from kayaking, versus people who use a kayak for beach find transportation, like me. As the man walked further up the beach, I spoke with the woman. We chatted for a bit, I learned she is a professional kayaker, she told me about her custom, handmade Scottish kayak, and when we exchanged names, we did what used to be automatic during introductions back when the world was normal. Neither of us thought about it in advance, we didn’t look at each other to see if it was okay, we just did it by instinct—maybe because each of us in past lives has done it thousands of times before, and definitely because in that setting we forgot we are now in a different day and age: we shook hands.

As soon as it happened we remembered ourselves and both were taken aback. Our eyes both widened in horror and we gasped a little, the conversation halted dead in its tracks. Then as we looked at each other, the best thing happened. Seeing that we weren’t offended or upset, we just laughed. The wordless exchange had been complete. We’d acted in a timeless, age-old gesture of meeting: the handshake, realized that such an act was essentially an act of war in today’s society, immediately realized our mistakes, looked to the other in a moment of despair and apology, and then decided to just laugh at how funny and sad “this day and age" is. Could one of us have just given the other the deadly COVID-19? I suppose so, but instead we talked about how the body of water we were currently beachcombing, a coastal landfill, was so unclean that with any luck we’ve developed some kind of immunity over time. In any case, neither of us has acquired any “elbow bump” skills yet and we vowed to try to remember them in the future, should the next people we encounter be less nonchalant individuals.

We ended up talking for quite awhile, found each other later online, and planned to meet up for a kayaking trip—a lesson actually—because although I have been kayaking for about eight years, I’ve never learned to do it properly.

As we went our separate ways to head home, I thought about how, in recent times as we’ve spent months avoiding other people—the masks and the hand-sanitizer and the six-foot stickers on the floors of stores and the fear while waiting in line, or of doing almost everything, it was nice to “forget” for a minute. I was glad to meet a new friend… potentially deadly handshake and all.

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