Published on 6/7/2020
As I write this on the evening before the official launch of phase 1 of reopening New York City, I’m reflecting on the days since this pandemic started. It hit me that I’ve been living here continuously, but I could have been anywhere. The world, as I knew it, came to a screeching halt and my new normal was focused inwards.
I was, after all, quarantined indoors with my partner for quite some time. We left the house occasionally for trips to the supermarket or walks around the neighborhood to walk off all the food we’d been eating from the supermarket. Our lives became insular and repetitive; we started with the sourdough, then the composting, the germinating, the gardening, the nesting. We focused on the simple joys of life, we talked about what we would do if we got really sick, we talked about leaving and being one of those fleeing the greatest city in the world.
That’s really what hit us the most. Leaving our home out of fear for what kind of hellscape a clustered, congested, dense city like New York would devolve into once the food supply chain and medical systems were rendered compromised. Maybe it was dramatic, but we wanted to cover our bases. The idea of a city of 8 million people panicking at once felt overwhelmingly terrifying. After all, neither of us had been through a pandemic before.
What we saw instead was really a beautiful community rising to meet its’ greatest challenge.
As the weeks went by, the fog of fear was starting to wane and another feeling bloomed instead. It was something like hope or love or maybe just relief. People were actually putting on masks. Public refrigerators with free food were popping up for those in need to stumble upon. Mutual aid networks were being shared widely for those unable to leave the house to get groceries or medical supplies. Musicians serenaded healthcare workers and the rest of us clapped. Masks were being hand sewn at home by crafters and hobbyists. Boxes of food and necessity items were left by generous beneficiaries on sidewalks. Thank you signs were hung up on windows for the hospital two blocks away. We got to know our neighbors!
We have so much art and culture at our disposal here in New York. Music and nightlife. Career opportunity and industry scenes. The competition is fierce and if you can make it here you can make it anywhere, I’ve heard. These are the common tropes people use when they describe why they might have chosen to move here, us included, and they all came to a screeching halt once Covid landed.
What remained after the dust settled was a city that was present and showed up for the people that lived here and stayed through the fears. Despite a shocking global event, and the pervasive fearful, neurotic energy of worry stemming from Covid-19, our fellow neighbors became the fibers of a beautiful tapestry. The city reached out to embrace and celebrate itself. Maybe we had all been renewed by this focus on what really matters.
What is essential for each of us?
What is essential for us as a community?
We could have been anywhere during the pandemic, but I was grateful to be in the progressive capital of the United States. New Yorkers pride themselves on being stewards of the most expressed, most connected and most tolerant city in the land and I stand in awe of a city that took something heavy and serious and turned it into an opportunity to enrich its grassroots communities. When federal and state governments and leaders had their shortcomings, it was the social backbone of New York that kept it afloat.
Unity, community and togetherness saved the day for so many.
Coming out of a strong week of protests and a start to Pride, I see, today more than ever, a New York that’s had some time to consider its priorities and sense of meaning. Covid exposed gaping weaknesses in our societies, this is true across the country, but maybe a post-Covid world in NYC is one that’s more aware of how we address our shortcomings and how we capitalize on our strengths. As we open our doors, and our arms, again to greet a new post shelter-in-place world I hope our introspective gains will stick with us before we rush into that competitive NY hustle.
Let us create more cohesive social structures that are inclusive of all classes, races, creeds, sexes and sexual orientation and decide which parts of our old normal we want to bring to the new.
Let us internalize the lessons Covid-19 made glaringly obvious for us: We are stronger together indeed.