Tag Archives: covid-19

Who Will We Be When this is All Over?

25 Mar

The other day during a press conference, New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo said, “if you want to go for a run, God bless you.” So, I went. I ran in the middle of the empty streets and, when cars turned up, I headed to the sidewalks and gave others a wide berth. I dashed back and forth from one side of the road to the other in an attempt to have the sidewalk to myself, to give the appropriate and responsible social distance. I felt a certain amount of guilt through the entire process, wondering whether the people in the occasional passing cars were looking at me thinking I was selfish, careless, putting others at risk. I got nervous when rounding corners, afraid of being face to face with another person, trepidatious in a way I haven’t been since walking home through the French Quarter of New Orleans late at night, my restaurant-issued suspenders dangling down my legs. There were a lot of robberies in the Quarter at the time, not so much of local workers as tourists, but still, you had to have your wits about you. I have felt safe in New York City for a very long time now, this dense city where I feel most comfortable around throngs of people. Now though, I feel safest alone, when keeping a reasonable distance from everyone else.

It’s strange, to walk along empty streets, surrounded only by shuttered businesses and empty-looking apartments. Stranger still to pull close to a building when another person approaches, giving them plenty of space to pass, making eye-contact in a sad, weary way. We all have a common enemy but we don’t know who among us carries that enemy inside, who among us leaves it behind on door knobs and grocery store shelves. We are fighting an invisible executioner, one who lies dormant in some while it ravages others. We are left asking these huge questions: who do we know that we will not see again? How will we let people know we love them? When will we be able to mourn those deaths? Will we ever be the same?

There is something about going through a collective trauma, it seems. A population, a place, is never quite the same after. New York City – no, the world – post September 11th was a wildly different place. New oversight, new expressions of racism, new fears, a new mayor who shuffled in businesses and legislative changes that altered the face of the city forever. New Orleans was vastly different post-Katrina. A city was drowned, and terrorized and those in charge largely looked the other way or celebrated the effects wrought by the changed population. So many people who had made their homes there, who had lived there for generations, fled and never returned – whether they hoped to or not. And many of those who did return came back to destroyed houses, changed neighborhoods, and a bureaucratic nightmare.

So I am left to wonder: what will become of us after we “flatten the curve,” after we make it through the heat of the summer months and assess the losses? The lost friends, family members, favorite businesses, people who left to ride it out elsewhere and decided against coming back? What replaces all of that? How do we move past this experience?

Trauma changes you, we all know that. It alters the fabric of your being. New York, despite what people say, is a friendly place. Blunt perhaps, but friendly. A smile and nod on the street is almost always returned in kind. Streets are neighborhoods, people working at local businesses are friends, sometimes even akin to family. We love hard and we love deeply because, when you’re surrounded by so many strangers day in and day out, finding a familiar face in the crowd feels like magic. The longer you live here, and the more people you meet, the more magic you experience. And let me tell you: it never gets old.

So again, who will we be? After months of staying home, crossing streets, taking precaution after precaution, fearing the enemy that might dwell within, and whether it will be your undoing, will we go back to normal? Will we crowd bars and restaurants, congregate in parks, walk close to strangers on the street and exchange a handshake, a high five or a hug with people we know? Or will this fear embed itself inside of us and turn the friendly, helpful, community-oriented New Yorkers that we know we are into the rude, avoidant New Yorkers people have always claimed us to be?

I don’t have any answers, of course. None of us know how long this will last, what sort of wreckage will remain when we emerge from the safety of our homes on the other side. But I really hope that, after this is all over, I don’t cross the street to avoid someone heading my way, that I proceed without fear to my local bar and grocery store, that I am not afraid to leave my home. I hope we learn from this, that we love harder, that we lean on one another and we proceed with our crowded, overwhelming, busy existence, staking out a place in the grass on a sunny day to enjoy a moment of solitude in the company of thousands of people we haven’t yet met.

If you are enjoying my writing, and since a lot of the cafes are currently closed, consider buying me a coffee on ko-fi! It only costs $3 (or a multiple of 3 if you’re feeling frisky!) and would make my house-bound, under-socialized heart sing.