I make rather complex meals, so I spend more than the normal amount of time at my kitchen sink, washing pots, pans, cutting boards, knives, cooking utensils, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and mixing bowls. You can probably picture the counter next to my sink when I am just rolling up my sleeves and filling the dish pan with very hot, sudsy water. It is not a pretty sight. Multiply that by two because my son makes his own complex meals, and dishwashing is my agreed-upon chore. I spend a lot of time at my sink each day.

Before 2020, the view from my kitchen window was simply that of leaves fluttering in the bushes and trees, birds pecking for little seeds from the California native plants, and squirrels scurrying, either to plant acorns or to retrieve them. And there is one lanky man; he wears a flat cap and carries a covered mug no matter the season, weather, or time of day. I’ve concluded that he goes to the nearby Starbucks because he is drinking from that insulated mug on every return walk. He must like coffee: He seems to make this trip two or three times each day. I’ve surmised that he’s in high-tech and has worked from home for the past couple of years. His appearance is a perfect match to the stereotype.

The scenes from my kitchen window changed, of course, with the encouragement for us all to stay at home as much as we can. Walks and other forms of outdoor exercise, however, are encouraged—for both our physical and mental well-being. Looking out from my kitchen nurtures my mental well-being at least as much now as before we lived, mostly, within our homes.

A toddler, wearing a complete cow costume, walks with her mother along the sidewalk. She and her mother hold hands with a cloth bunny. A little of the child’s poker-straight black hair sticks out from under the cow’s forehead and ears. She is quite focused on the sidewalk as she walks along those segments of cement.

Or two young children—clearly brothers; they differ only in height—race ahead of their father with a sibling competitiveness that must assert itself at least few times each day. These lithe little ones would be at school all day if our neighborhood elementary school were open. Perhaps this is their makeshift recess period, a necessary but inadequate replacement for chasing a ball across a soccer field with a whole group of classmates. The older boy’s eyes sparkle above his little blue face mask. Apparently, the fence along my property boundary is the finish line for their race, and he has passed it first.

Or a couple walks by, faces as focused on their cell phones as the cow-girl’s was on the pavement beneath her feet. They are obviously out for a walk together: They pace each other’s footsteps exactly. But the young woman—with a sign of the times: a COVID hairstyle—is a consistent three steps behind. She is dressed for this breezy autumn day, scarf at the neck and sweatpants that gather at her ankles. He apparently hasn’t realized that the shorts-and-sandals season has passed.

Or a teenager with her curly hair in a ponytail wears pale blue running shorts and thin-soled racing shoes. She pushes herself forward with each pumping of one arm and then the other, looking straight ahead and willing herself toward her own finish line.

Our neighborhood has come alive in the past year. We are Chinese Americans, Latinx Americans, Indian Americans, Black Americans, European Americans, and Mideastern Americans; we are recent immigrants and lifelong citizens. Some passersby are still in baby carriages; some use walkers to keep them stable. We saunter, walk, or run. We may stop for our dog to sniff a bush or for a child to touch the bark of a tree. We don’t, however, stop to talk with those we don’t live with.

There is no question: There are ways in which our lives have become tightly circumscribed by what no longer feels like temporary circumstances. Yet we have this opportunity to see the world around us with fresh eyes and an open heart. We can start simply by looking out of a window and being grateful for the vibrancy of our collective lives.