Holly, who was socially distancing on a bench across the path, did a spit take with her coffee in response to the question.
“Oh,” was all she managed to say as she wiped coffee from her chin, replaced her mask, and carefully placed her cup next to her on the bench.
Usually, these Sunday chats with her best friend were lighthearted, witty banter. She had been totally caught off guard by Aaron’s opening statement.
“Did something happen this morning?” she asked once she had regained her composure.
Aaron shrugged from across the path. He shifted his bottle of Snapple from hand to hand as if he needed something to do with his nervous energy.
“It’s just everything,” he finally admitted. “You can’t turn on the news without seeing another report of a mass shooting, some deadly, racially motivated act committed by a member of law enforcement, a close-minded politician prattling on like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, or some hothead complaining about how his freedoms are being violated because someone asked him to wear a mask and not gather in large groups.”
Holly nodded in somber agreement. “I’m afraid to turn on the TV anymore.”
“I went for a run this morning. I passed the flagpole at the end of this very river walk, and then I passed the flagpole in front of the school by my house. Both flags were at half mast,” he informed her. “I’m sad that we live in a country where the flags forever seem to be at half mast because of another tragedy.”
Holly was at a loss for words. Not because she didn’t want to comfort Aaron, but because similar thoughts had been rattling around in her head as well. She didn’t know what to do about them, or how to make anything better.
“I don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” she admitted. “I can’t stand it, either, but I feel so helpless.”
The best friends sat in silence as thoughts of current events washed over them.
“To be honest, I don’t even feel safe bringing up these topics in conversation with anyone but you,” he confessed. “You never know how someone else is going to react, and even worse, who in your life might reveal something previously unknown about them by being wildly offended by your take.”
Holly nodded emphatically. “I’ve been stunned by what social media has revealed about my supposed friends over this past year. I had no idea how many of them had political and personal views that were the polar opposites of my own. You might be the only friend I haven’t muted yet on Facebook.”
“We have so many mutual friends, so I know exactly what you mean,” Aaron assured her with a smile she could not see because of his mask. “I’ve been tempted to post my thoughts on social media, but I don’t want to deal with the backlash. I don’t want to be marked by a certain group and then harassed into silence.”
“So what do we do?” he asked.
Holly shrugged. “Maybe we do our best not to suck, so we don’t add to mankind’s descent into madness and oblivion.”
Aaron took a very long sip of his Snapple, and then smiled at Holly’s comment before he returned his mask to the ready position.
“I promise to do everything in my power not to suck,” he vowed.
“I second that motion,” she agreed with a chuckle. “Maybe someone should elect us to make the world a less sucky place.”
“Couldn’t hurt,” Aaron quipped with a charming smile that no one could see because he chose to wear a mask to help stop the spread of a deadly virus.