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Elan Vitae


  • Shena Driscoll Salvato


What it was that first caught my eye that day remains a mystery. What I do know is, that despite being one story above them, minding my own business behind the wall of glass, no sound was exchanged between them across the canal that day. It’s not that the breeze carried it out to the lake or that it made its way, like the early morning clouds clinging to the treetops, from the valley up to the top of the hill. It’s not that the thick glass between us buffered the sound, there just weren’t any words exchanged. There wasn’t a need for them. The sincerity of their prolonged, exaggerated gestures, essential to convey their message between space and time, echoed not only between them, but up to me, a mere bystander, bearing witness to the exuberance of this fleeting exchange.

Had anyone else seen it? Even now, I imagine myself looking to my left, to my right, urging complete strangers, “Are you seeing this? Have you ever witnessed a more beautifully orchestrated encounter?” I am sure that I was too enthralled, too taken by them to have drawn my gaze away. Yes, I am sure if it. Was I, and am I now still, the only one who saw it? Did they know anyone had been drawn into their ephemeral vortex? The oddly surprising thing is that I did not, nor do I now, feel as if I was uninvited, feel as if I was an intruder. It was as if I was the single spectator in an outdoor theatre, an audience of one. I almost expected them to stop, turn to me, look up and bow before they went on with their days, ushered along their walking trails by my muted applause from behind the glass. Do they, the ones exchanging such emotive greetings that day, even remember that encounter?

The youthfulness of their expression contrasted their physical appearance, giddiness sloughing off what gravity had long since begun calling back to Earth. And yet, even from above, I sensed a youthful, unrequited longing from him, clearly not ready to continue his journey in the opposite direction, wanting to linger as long as he could, to change course in the direction of hers, rush to the closest bridge and finally erase the chasm between them, perhaps chatting and walking leisurely side-by-side, losing sense of all space and time, this time, really talking. She, on the other hand, walked with a contentedness for the status quo, an air of not wanting or needing anything beyond what they had exchanged without words, nothing but air and flowing water between them.

In retrospect, I can't recall who was on which side, or who was walking in which direction. Was it he on the east side walking south, she on the west side walking north? Or was it the opposite? Or was one on the east walking north, the other on the west walking south? Why do these details even matter? I can’t recall the season, except for the fact that the water was free of ice, and the cinders were visible on the path below, flanked by grass. My memory did not retain the logistics, but the joie de vivre that ascended from between them lingers still, set aloft by the blown kisses, the broad waves, lobbed back and forth across the water in equal measure.

While the affection was undeniable, the most unfeigned of them all had not been received by her. I, on the other hand, had seen it; I had born witness. As suddenly as their encounter had entered my awareness, she continued onward, her head turning in the direction of her original destination. The sadness that lingers in me resulted from the moment that followed, he holding both hands over his heart in her direction, she turning onward just before then, oblivious to his last sign of affection. Had he always wanted to tell her, and now, across the canal, had his chance finally arrived? Had she been waiting, years, even decades, to be the recipient of that gesture from him, only to look away a moment too soon? Why was it I who saw his effort, witnessed his attempt? It was as if I wanted to bang on the glass, grab her attention from the story above and shout through, “Wait! He has something more to say!” What an absurd thought since no words had even been exchanged between them. Or was she oblivious? Did she know what was coming and chose to turn away in anticipation, just in time, as if to feign ignorance? Had he offered that gesture before and had she respectfully refused it, not wanting, once again, to have to reject his proposal? From that perspective, liberation replaced sadness. She having her space on the other side, not needing to politely decline or explain herself. She had the power to offer her gratitude, genuinely recognize it for what it was, and move on.

As it registered that his message was not, and would not, be received, he slowly turned from the water and continued onward, north or south I do not recall, but in the opposite direction from her nonetheless, such a chasm now palpable between them. Gravity slowly resumed its unavoidable pull, diminishing his energy step-by-step, pulling him back to Earth once again. I, too, looked away. But oh, for that span of time across that span of water, no truer was their emotion, no clearer was the resonance in their delight in meeting across parallel paths, journeying in opposite directions.


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