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Silence on the sidewalk

Some stories delve deeply into the lives of their subjects. Others seek to capture the human condition in just a few words. Modeled after journalist Brady Dennis’ 300 word stories that explore the unfiltered intimacy of the everyday, these pieces offer a glimpse into the untold experiences of college life. 

Emily Dattilo: 

I was walking to the parking lot, simultaneously juggling a suitcase, the new reality of online classes and a whole lot of confusion, when I passed someone I thought I knew walking out of the Verge gym.

We made eye-contact and he waved his hand. Paying half-attention, I didn’t notice and kept walking. So did he. Two seconds later, I realized my mistake and turned around to call his name. AirPods rested in his ears, preventing him from hearing what I was saying. 

I called again, but at that point, he was too far away. I rolled my suitcase to my car, hurriedly tossing coats and other items into the backseat. 

I’d left my phone in my apartment, so my apologetic text was sent five minutes later, feeling irrelevant yet somehow necessary at the same time. 

Now, four days later, I’m back at home and already missing those face-to-face interactions on the sidewalk — misinterpreted waves and all — that have since been replaced by FaceTime calls and WebEx classes. 

Will Gorman: 

When I was younger, I was strongly in favor of smiling at anyone I passed while walking somewhere. I viewed it as a small yet effective way of spreading kindness.

Now, I mostly keep to myself on the sidewalk. However, in the event that I’m absolutely sure I recognize someone, I’ll smile, at the very least. 

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I passed someone in a crosswalk who I didn’t recognize on the way to a meeting last Thursday. It was the middle of the day, but she was the only one I saw around. She smiled as we passed each other, as did I, which felt bizarrely unnatural yet comforting. It was a smile born from solidarity as we crossed the street from separate sides of the asphalt. It felt unexpectedly warm to feel just a little humanity in a global crisis.

A few minutes later, the next person I passed on the sidewalk kept to himself, looking down at his phone, and I did the same. But unlike any other sidewalk interaction I’ve had in my four years at Miami, this time, it felt like we were ashamed to be outside. We instinctively moved away from each other as though we were both somehow going to obstruct the other’s path.

Life is different now, down to the minutiae. We’re encouraged to keep our social distance from one another in the wake of a global pandemic, so seeing anyone in public almost feels like a communal rule-breaking – we’re both on our way to do what we’ve been told not to: be in public.

David Kwiatkowski: 

Growing up, I watched many movies that took place on a college campus; “Legally Blonde.“ “Pitch Perfect.“ “Scream 2“—just to name a few. 

These films contributed to my heightened expectations of “college life.“ Crowded sidewalks, awkward roommate interactions and discovering I have the vocal range of Anna Kendrick so I can woo the a cappella club with a dishware-heavy performance.

Most of those have come true.

I have had my share of moments where I feel like Elle Woods traipsing around campus, getting things done without letting obstacles stop me on my journey, especially this semester.

I can honestly say this is the hardest I’ve worked my entire life. This is coming from someone who put extensive work into memorizing the choreography from Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” music video. 

With intrusive bicycles millimeters from mowing me down and people who seem to walk head-on toward me with no signs of moving over, the sidewalk is a place that usually causes me great anxiety. However, as much as I complain about it, I actually love it.

A college campus sidewalk at midday is one of the most intense environments you will ever see, but it’s also breathtaking. All sorts of people hustling and bustling to their various destinations, all of them hoping that these are their first steps toward their desired career paths.

The past week has felt like ten years. Last Monday, I was going about my normal busy routine, fighting for room on the packed pavements of Miami University.

This Monday, I walked the sidewalks mostly alone. There aren’t people on all sides of me. In fact, I don’t see much of anyone at all.

Turns out, I am more afraid of the empty concrete around me than the social interaction that usually accompanies sidewalks. I find myself longing for awkward eye contact. For overhearing people talking too loud through their AirPods. For being stuck behind someone who walks slower than the rest of the world. 

It would force me to slow down.