“Why would I want to destroy another life?” he recalls telling them. “What do I need to find out that’s going to bring him back?”
Walker describes himself as an “aggressive optimist.” The 37-year-old looks for the good during the awful, and when he doesn’t see it, he tries to create it.
It’s why after his brother’s death, he put together a plan to move with his wife and two young sons from New Orleans to Northern Virginia. He was drawn by the reputation of the schools and the chance to give his boys a life in which they wouldn’t see the loss of friends and relatives as “normal.”
It’s why when his family settled in Alexandria and he found himself feeling disconnected from the community, he created a dads group and grew it to about 170 members.
It’s why when he clicked on a Facebook page for residents in a neighboring county, looking to find someone to cut the lawn at a home he was selling as part of his real estate business, he read through the posts and then started typing.
What are some positive things that have happened to you because of COVID-19? For starters, I see my kids more.
That question appeared Tuesday on a page created for Arlington residents to help one another through the pandemic.
In the days since, hundreds of people have responded, offering comments that tell of everything from simple appreciations to life-altering revelations:
I successfully grew a tomato.
We have a swing set on our yard now.
I unintentionally learned to eat intuitively rather than emotionally.
I have been having the BEST time with my 4-year-old. I never thought of myself as a good mother, but this isolation has brought us so close together.
I finally got around to taking the Ancestry DNA test that had been sitting on my bureau for a year. I found my birth mother and birth father and learned that I have 3 half siblings and an enormous extended family.
People wrote about working from home in their pajamas and without bras. They also wrote about proving to employers that they could get their work done, and maybe even more, from home.
People wrote about getting to spend more time with children and spouses. They also wrote about getting to spend more time with themselves at a pace that wasn’t their normal foot-on-the-pedal go, go, go.
Before COVID I just got up late, ran around in a panic, usually in a bad mood or at least sad, endured a road rage-filled commute, and arrived at the office late and ready for a cocktail. Now I wake up and think, ‘Oh, I woke up again’ and then I go out to my balcony amidst the pine trees and the chirping birds and rising sun.
Walker has responded to several of the comments. He has also found himself thinking about some long after he read them.
“A lot of people are going to go back to their normal lifestyle,” when the pandemic is over, he says. “But I think a lot of people are going to be so traumatized by their old lives that they won’t go back. I hope some people don’t go back.”
He hopes some people abandon the long commutes that made them miserable and find ways to hold on to what they discovered makes them happy.
He hopes people don’t waste the chance to reinvent themselves.
“That’s the beautiful thing about destruction,” he says. “You used to have a life. The coronavirus destroyed that life. You now get to decide how you rebuild that life.”
He really talks that way — in thoughtful, quotable phrases. When we speak on a recent afternoon, he jokes about sounding like “a motivational speaker.”
Since he was a child, he says, he has been introspective, “always looking for the parts that people aren’t seeing.”
I reached out to Walker after seeing his post on the Arlington page. I was curious whether the man behind that question was wearing blinders or seeing more clearly than others.
The novel coronavirus has claimed at least 136,000 lives across the country and resulted in more than 3.6 million cases, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. For some families, it has left multiple empty seats at dinner tables, and in black and Latino communities, it has caused a disproportionate amount of loss.
Beyond deaths, the virus has pushed millions of people out of jobs, forced businesses to close and caused children to lose the educational and social benefits that come from going to school. It has stolen graduations and weddings and people’s sense of security.
“Nothing,” one person replied to Walker’s question. “Absolutely nothing here.”
Walker says he is not oblivious to what is happening as a result of the pandemic. He is just trying, he says, to get people to flip over the coin and recognize that there is another side.
“Now, we have people looking for the old people,” he says. “That would have never happened without the virus. You would have never spent time with your kids. You would have never found the old people. You would have never volunteered.”
You would have never adopted that dog. You would have never planted that garden. You would have never started recording your mom’s voice during phone calls, recognizing you might not have as many conversations with her as you thought.
Walker might not have seen the four Stargazer lilies that grow in the sliver of space between his and his neighbor’s townhouses. Now, he makes a point of noticing them every day. He also now spends more time at home with his sons, who are almost 10 and 12. And on those days when he goes to the office, they know that at 5 p.m., he’ll be waiting on Zoom to talk with them.
“So many people are concerned about dying from the virus,” Walker says. “But a lot of people don’t realize they’re going to live and get nothing from this.”
In that sense, the responses aren’t just about the people giving them. They are also about the people reading them. They can be viewed as a guide for what more people could be taking away from this time.
They also show that amid the chaos, some extraordinary occurrences are quietly happening around us.
After posting that question on the Arlington page, Walker asked it of his neighbors in Alexandria though a social media site. Many of their answers touched on similar themes. But one response, in particular, stayed with Walker.
A person described living for 12 years in “more pain than I wish on anyone.”
“Then comes Covid,” the person wrote. “I am forced to sit most of the day for 3 months. So . . . one day I went for a long drive, I finally arrived home and got out of the car to walk around the block. That’s when I noticed it. My pelvic bone had gone back into place by itself, the pain was SO diminished!!! I burst into tears! Covid19 has given me my life back.”
Walker says his brother’s death was a tragedy, but it pushed him to relocate to Northern Virginia, where his family has created a life, made friends and connected with neighbors.
“Look at the afterward,” he says. “History tells us there is always an afterward.”
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