Around the corner on Broadway, the grocery store opens at 7 am, a time popular with older people and morning larks. This morning, the shelves were still well stocked with produce and meats, but not so much with bread and toilet paper. The pharmacy is open, and the liquor store, too. Other places may be open or closed, but at this point, everyone is told to go out for only what they need and then go home.
The park was pleasant this morning, even under cloudy skies. The cherry blossoms are peaking now. The few people who still enjoy morning exercise or have dogs can witness this thing called springtime in New York. It’s just as glorious as autumn in New York. Andy Warhol famously said, “My favorite smell is the first smell of spring in New York.” The birds were out in force, including mockingbirds and robins. One loud bird often wakes me up in the middle of the night. There are only two sounds sometimes - birds and sirens.
The days run together, as they may be where you live. Yet, people tend to settle into certain rhythms. The first thought, upon waking, comes the reminder that life on the planet has seemingly come to a halt, at least for humankind. The birds are busy collecting sticks for the nest. After breakfast, the “work day” begins. For some, works continues in some fashion but at a distance through telecommuting. For the newly unemployed or for artists trying to function outside traditional venues, the idea of a normal workday seems like a phantasm.
For many, lunchtime means Cuomo-time. The Governor of New York’s news conference starts at 11:30 am or later. He typically starts with “facts” - the number of cases, the number of deaths, the required number of needed ventilators. Then he offers his personal opinions. We need to use the time, he says, to find the “silver lining” - to pursue our dreams and buried aspirations or to connect deeply with families and friends. Our proud Italian-American governor reminds us that good pasta makes for meaningful and convivial relationships. He thanks our front-line workers - the doctors, nurses, mental care workers, delivery guys, grocery store clerks, EMS responders, and more. Then, it’s time “to get back to work.”
After Cuomo time, we go back to work, whatever that means for each of us individually. At 7 pm, in a new tradition that started this past week in the city, New Yorkers come to their windows and shout their appreciation to the front-line workers. The practice is uplifting and convivial, as if we were playing parts in an elaborate Metropolitan Opera production.
After window time, it’s back to whatever we need to do to cope with a life lived indoors. Chatting with friends on the phone helps enormously. Conversations sometimes turn toward the topic of symptoms - the weird allergy at the beginning of March, the chills, a loss of smell, or a persistent cough. We may have had the virus or not, but with the lack of widespread testing, no one is sure. It’s hard not to be paranoid.
Checking in on social media can help, too, in small doses. One friend living out in a western state posted a remark that they were grateful they didn’t live in New York. I try not to take things personally anymore. There’s a comfort in the shared experience.
Sleep eventually comes. As with best meditation practices, I find it helps to focus on the moment. Dwelling on the past can drift into bouts of loss and sadness, while pondering the uncertain future can lead to crippling anxiety. It’s time to take a big long collective breath. The tragic twist to this respiratory illness is its ability to take away our very capacity for breath.
Live life from moment to moment, I tell myself. Stay here and now. Here and now means building a new interior life, in a life lived inside. Walk on occasion and enjoy the trees, but truly stay inside.
Related post: Walking Through the Age of Coronavirus March 21, 2020