I didn’t notice the silence until I was halfway around the block. I realized I couldn’t hear the laughter of children or the rumble of cars. The two boys who always rode their bicycles in circles at the end of the street had vanished. My footsteps echoed against the sidewalk as if my sneakers wanted to fill the world with sound.
It was mid-March, and I was walking around the block after spending the past week inside my house. The parade of dog walkers and bicyclists who usually flooded my suburban neighborhood had disappeared. The only evidence of human life was a message written in yellow sidewalk chalk: Hey Ashley. Jaden wrote this. Can’t wait to see you again!
It looked like a child’s handwriting—the sentences sloped downward, and each letter was smaller than the one before. I didn’t know who Jaden and Ashley were, but I pulled out my phone and took a picture. As I glanced at the closed garage doors and dark windows on both sides of the street, I could easily imagine that all of the houses were empty. The words on the sidewalk proved that people were still living, still connecting, and still being kind despite the challenges the world faced.
The message caught my attention because I related to Jaden’s feelings. The week before, I had driven away from my university and left behind my friends, classmates, and professors. Judging by the handwriting, I assumed Jaden was an elementary schooler whose school had closed too. I couldn’t imagine how scary this situation must have been for a child, and I admired Jaden’s ability to reach out to someone else.
As my shoes passed over the concrete, I realized that Jaden’s words were powerful because they conveyed hope and excitement. The phrase “I can’t wait” holds a particular eagerness reserved for the most exciting moments in life. I’ve decided that “Can’t wait to see you again!” is the best compliment you can give someone these days. I’m sure these words comforted Ashley. When we feel isolated, getting a message from a friend reminds us that we aren’t alone.
In the coming months, I hope we can all be like Jaden. We can look forward to a future where we don’t have to stay six feet away from the people we love, but we can be kind while waiting for that future to arrive. The pandemic has affected everyone’s mental health, so we should reach out to our friends, family, and classmates to check on their well-being. We can all be like Jaden, even if we use conventional means of communication—like video calls and text messages—instead of chalk.
I’ve decided that most words are like sidewalk chalk; most of our conversations fade quickly, disappearing from people’s memories like chalk drawings dissolving under raindrops. However, kind words can last forever, sticking to people’s hearts and sparking even more kindness.
Today my friend stopped by my house to pick up some cookies. To uphold social distancing, I had to leave the treats on my doorstep and wave to her from the window. Before she arrived, I grabbed my bucket of sidewalk chalk and ran outside. The chalk dust coated my fingers as I traced the letters: Hi Kaye! I miss you. Stay safe and healthy!
I went back inside and watched from my bedroom window as Kaye’s car rolled into my driveway. She stopped in front of the words and smiled, and we waved at each other through the glass.
If I knew how to reach Jaden and Ashley, I would tell them that the silence won’t last forever. Someday I’ll hear the school bus roll down my street and listen to the shouts of children playing together. Groups of people will ride their bicycles past my house, and maybe two of those children will be Jaden and Ashley. But for now, I will keep my sidewalk chalk close, and I will search for moments of connection that break through the silence on my block. Someday my street will awaken, and I can’t wait.