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An empty highway

February 19, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

After clicking the red “Leave Meeting” button for the third time in a day, your door locking behind you is an inviting sound. You don a coat, hat, mask and the hope that you won’t slip on the ice again. It’s time for a walk.

Sometimes the walk is a straight line—right out the door of your building and as far as you can go in one direction, before turning around and seeing how the view changes on the way back.  Alone on icy mornings, the sun peeks out and warms the trees, and you can hear a faint hissing as the ice on the branches begins to crack. With the quad no longer bustling with fellow students running to and from class, you can finally take the time to notice the little things.

If you superimposed a city onto the quad, the path from the VAC to the Chapel would be the main commuter highway. On any pre-pandemic day, you’d find dozens of people walking, running, skateboarding or biking—almost all of them going somewhere. Ambling towards the Chapel, maybe you trace the imaginary paths of all those commuters speeding past you–racing to class, to lunch, to practice, to any number of activities. Moving with a purpose. But not anymore. Walking itself has become the activity. Your pace slows, your mind wanders—noticing the little details that, when getting from one building to a next was a duty rather than a luxury, used to slip right by you.

Taking the time to look extends to the people you meet on the walk. With everyone wearing masks, determining if you know someone takes a few extra seconds of staring. And with so much time apart without casual “hellos,”, finally spotting your friends, teammates, even old O-Trip members and lab partners feels like finding a prize.

In previous semesters, meeting with friends looked very different. “Let’s get a meal,” at least for now, is a thing of the past. By virtue of necessity, it has been replaced by “let’s go for a walk” and “let’s spend some time outside.” And maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Dining in the presence of another person as a means of social engagement is rooted in practicality. We both need to eat, right? Why not just do it together? Walking together or sitting on the museum steps, on the other hand, is a much more intentional activity.  It is committing to spend time with another person for no other reason than a true appreciation for their company.

At an institution as fast-paced as Bowdoin, this type of activity is an anomaly. Schedules are tight, and in previous semesters, slowing down enough to fill the time with something nonessential seemed impossible for many students.

Each of us has been that person staring at the red button at the bottom right of the Zoom screen, gazing out of our bedroom window during class, waiting to put the computer away and step outside.

Once that red button is a distant memory and we return to in-person class, that path between the  Chapel and the VAC will look like a highway once again. But when you’re back on it, you don’t have to keep your foot on the gas pedal. Slow down. Once in a while, go walking for the sake of walking.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Editorial Board which is comprised of  Colter Adams, Sophie Burchell, Katie King, Kate Lusignan, Nina McKay Dylan Sloan, and Emily Staten

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