• Rebecca Lerner

Suspicious but happy is my vibe too

It was a Tuesday or a Wednesday. I was walking outside because someone told me it would keep my days from bleeding into one another.

From a block away, I saw a figure approaching on the sidewalk. I changed course — from sidewalk to empty suburban road, keeping my distance in anticipation.

As he approached, I saw he was a bald man with a thick beard, wearing a sweatshirt and 80's style short shorts highlighting long, toned legs. I waved, smiled and shouted "Hi!" over the Phoebe Bridgers song in my ears. A short series of fatal mistakes.

He came into the road and, from 10 feet away, yelled "Hi!" back at me. I took out my headphones, thinking about how important niceness and civility is right now.

"Do you go to the local high school?"

I paused, thinking of how to convey that I'm 23. "I graduated from WJ, yes. I'm out of college now."

"What did you major in?"

"English and film," I said.

"Did you also study religion or philosophy or history?"

Weird. "Not really in college, mostly literature."

"What do you do now?" He asked, placing his hands on his hips.

"I work at a well-being start-up in New York."

"Well-being!" He walked towards me a bit. I backed up. "Like religious well-being or Christian science or Christian well-being?"

"No, science-backed well-being, mostly."

"But do you use spirituality in science? Or Christianity or Buddhism?"

"Not so much," I said.

"But," he began before I cut him off.

"I'm sorry, I really need to be heading home. It was nice talking to you."

"Oh," he said, raising his eyebrows at me. "Well, try to keep the faith."

I walked away, crossing back onto the sidewalk and put my headphones back in. I had gone probably 15 feet before he ran up beside me on the sidewalk.

"Hi!" He yelled again. We were much closer this time, and I jumped. "Oh, didn't mean to scare you."

"It's fine," I said. "But I really need to be going."

"Right. Just wanted to ask you, do you know what happened to my neighbor?"

I shook my head at the vagueness of the question. "Who? Where do they live?" He pointed to the house we were in front of.

"I haven't seen them in like two weeks, him or his son," he said. "I wondered if you knew where they were."

It was a house I didn't recognize — blue with yellow shutters. Flowers in the yard. No car in the driveway.

"No, I don't know him," I said.

"Okay," he said, turning to run away again. Before he broke into a sprint away from me, we locked eyes as he said, again, "Try to keep the faith."

Was he trying to convert me or start a spirited discussion about religion at 2 pm? Maybe it wasn't anything, maybe it was a conversation he has every day, maybe it was a great lesson in COVID civility. For the life of me, I don't know.

Still, I can't help but smile as I remember his parting words. How useful a catchphrase would be right now. Try to keep the faith.


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