One of the good things about working in one’s home is that, when you just can’t stand to write another one of those ridiculous consulting sentences, you can get up and do something else. In my case, I’m working so close to the Arboretum that something else can mean a quick walk up Peters Hill.
That’s just what happened a couple of days ago, when I took a walk that I wasn’t prepared for. The moment I left the house, I knew that I wasn’t dressed for the weather. After reaching 88 the previous week, the temperature had dropped over 40 degrees and a cold wind whipped right through my flimsy sweatshirt. I would never go back into the house for something warmer, but I did immediately put up my hood for a little protection.
The view from the top of the hill was crystal-clear, but the wind pushed me back down very quickly. This was not a day to sit and take in the best view of downtown Boston. As I hurried back down the far side of the hill loop, past the first site of what is now Theodore Parker Church, I realized that I hadn’t seen a soul since I entered the park. The wind and cold had driven even the dog people inside.
My mind then wandered off as I came around by the apple orchard that will soon be in full bloom. I don’t know what I was thinking when I heard it. My little trance was broken by the sound of a shoe scraping on the asphalt in much the same way that I purposely scrape my foot on the ground as I walk up behind a lone person who I don’t want to startle with my approach. Instinctively, I turned toward the sound of the scrape and saw a single, young black man walking about ten yards behind me. Just as quickly I turned back, knowing only that he was approaching and that I didn’t think it was someone that I knew.
I have to admit that I didn’t just return to my daydream. I remember very clearly saying to myself, “This is not fear. I’m just aware of someone coming up behind me. I’m always aware of that.” I am always aware of that, but I’m quite sure that my already quick step got a bit quicker.
I could hear the young man walking behind me, but he did not catch up with me. I couldn’t help wondering what he was thinking, but didn’t want him to think that I was overly aware of him. Then, as I got to the fork in the road, he appeared in the corner of my eye, passing me on the right, but leaving space between us. I turned slightly to look at him as he passed. He wore wire-rimmed glasses (like mine, but nicer) and was carrying a shoulder bag, like a high school or college student on his way home from school. He didn’t turn to me, but did say something, more to himself than to me. It took a long second for it to sink in that he had said, “Nice hood.”
In another second, he was gone. He was headed toward the stone arch on South Street, just like me, but he chose to cut down the grassy hill, past the little patch of bamboo that the kids always try to pass through. For the first time in hundreds of walks past this place, I realized that his path was actually the most direct way out of the park.
We came together again, as we both reached the two stone steps down to the sidewalk. I slowed down for a bit so that we wouldn’t hit the stairs at the very same time. For some strange reason, I reached up and pulled off the hood. As he left the park, I looked at him hoping to catch his eye in order to say something stupid. He ignored me, and walked through the arch, up South Street.
Any parent of a teenage son (especially one who favors hoodies) who was not thinking about a young black man from Miami last week was not paying attention. I left the house on Tuesday afternoon not prepared for the cold, but even less prepared for a tiny non-conversation with a young man who was probably also thinking about what happens with hoodies.