The Long Days of This New York Spring

The guys downstairs closed their diner, broke down the newsstand, and tossed the pieces to the curb. The barbershop closed last week, or maybe two weeks ago, commemorated with an Irish wake of beers. The bagel shop tried to stay open but gave up. There’s one bodega open across the street, and a few guys are still hanging out there, drinking cans of beer out of paper bags. The florist has shuttered, and the shoe repair guy, too. The juice bar that was going to open never did. The pet food store is still open.

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

Walking Through the Age of Coronavirus

I took a walk yesterday in my local park. It was 7:15 am, and the weather was foggy and mild. It would warm up into the 70s later in the day, and I knew that walking early would give me a better chance at maintaining the proper distance from other people.



Before arriving in the park, I had to walk through an obstacle course of potential threats. These include the sets of doorknobs that I would need to open in order to leave my apartment building. I then had to steer clear of the street corner where people congregate and talk, some of them with repeating dry coughs that I can hear regularly from my third floor apartment.

If I can make it one block without encountering anyone too close, I feel safe. There’s an abundant forest at the end of the block, and the forest is not out to kill me.



Walking in forests with a mindful intent, often known as "forest bathing," is known to provide a host of health benefits including the reduction of stress and an enhanced sense of wellbeing. Walking among the trees is also said to help boost the immune system. That may help us fight off the common cold but not so with this virus. With the novel coronavirus and until a vaccine is found, our bodies lack the defenses to recognize it and keep it away. The danger comes from physical proximity to other people, not from the trees in the forest.

If physical distance can be maintained, and sometimes it’s tricky, walking can greatly enhance our well being. As I’ve written in the post Walking for Fitness, “this modest and inexpensive form of exercise can lower anxiety, improve the mood, make for better sleep, and reduce the risk of dementia.”



Still, everyone should stay home right now except when necessary. As of this writing, taking a walk is still permitted. People with dogs have little choice. New York officials, and especially the governor, have been providing daily briefings and updates, including guidelines about walking. The walks must be solitary (though a household can stick together), with distances kept at six feet apart.



On my walk yesterday, I could see with my own eyes that springtime had arrived. The twenty-minute walk lifted my spirits, and it was a good stretch of the legs. In the early hours of the morning, I also felt safe. There were only about twenty people, of all ages, in my area of the park. They mindfully kept their distances. Many smiled or nodded from afar. We should still make the effort to be kind.

I felt lucky the park wasn’t crowded. Many people, and not just younger people, have not yet fully grasped the serious dangers of close physical proximity. Can they not hear the sounds of sirens nearby? Given the overall uncertainty of this serious public health crisis, I must say that I have never taken a walk with such trepidation or with such a feeling of guilt. When we’re told to stay home, taking a walk feels like a breach of the social contract.



We’re walking through all this, alone and together. And on an early solo morning walk, in the light of spring’s renewal, you’re likely to enjoy the new company of song-filled warblers and other migrating birds. As solitary Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers -.”

Images from Inwood Hill Park, March 20, 2020.

• From the Merriam-Webster Twitter feed, my new favorite word:

“Is It OK to Take a Walk?
By Alex Williams, The New York Times, March 17, 2020

“With Mayor de Blasio’s closure of the city’s restaurants (except for takeout), bars and gyms, which took effect this morning at 9 a.m., along with schools, movie theaters and any other place where people congregate, the stroll, it seems, is all that’s left.”

‘It Sort of Gives You Hope’: One Place New Yorkers Go to Escape Their Homes
By Michael Wilson, The New York Times, March 19, 2020

“Frequent visitors this week said attendance was robust, but measured, with little close contact. Parkgoers kept more distance, but with collegial nods and smiles, as if all on the same team.”

• Website of New York governor's office: https://www.governor.ny.gov/

Related Post: The Long Days of This New York Spring March 31, 2020