I live in Manhattan, the COVID-19 Inferno.
Spring has finally arrived here. Each day is growing warmer. Yet while trees and flowers are blooming new life outside, I’m still isolated inside.
It is odd how this vibrant city has transformed — along with all of us New Yorkers — since the pandemic struck last March. Many streets are closed. Park Avenue’s now a pedestrian mall which allows for better physical distancing if walking around. The city’s no longer shrieking with traffic horns and subway trains barreling through stations at night. It’s just ambulance sirens now ... and a whole lot of mourning.
In other years, I would have enjoyed a run in Central Park on any spring day. I never mind being buffeted by bikers or horse-drawn carriages. Seeing the sunbathers and families picnicking, playing Frisbee always makes me smile. But the Park is now personally off-limits for me. There’s no joy seeing medical tents filled with COVID-19 patients.
Everyone’s wearing masks now, too. The stores no longer had them in inventory when I went to buy one, so I wear a bandana mask. Covering our faces for me is not a stigma, but rather a sign we all agree to protect each other in this novel reality.
I was really caught off guard when my brother in Texas asked me the other day what designs my mask has. I never imagined I would ever discuss my wardrobe with my brother.
The first sentence in Book 1 of Lamentations is: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” That describes New York today to a tee, alone and beaten. Each day I do venture out, I feel the virus closing in on me. So much so, I finally sat down and honestly asked myself why in the heck did I ever want to live here.
I moved to Manhattan shortly before — yes, you guessed it — Sept. 11, 2001. I was working in my office immediately adjacent to the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11. I lived through that horror, and then the 2003 NYC blackout, Super Storm Sandy and now am waking up each morning in the nation’s largest cluster of death and despair. Lucky, lucky me.
On the other hand, I’ve been here for the Yankees’ last four World Series championships and the New York Giants last two Super Bowl wins. I was even in the crowd on Broadway cheering the ‘98 Yankee champs as they rode by in the Canyon of Heroes. Regardless of this invisible inhuman force driving us apart at the moment, Manhattan makes me happy.
I’m energized by the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Station and Broadway at night. I enjoy our museums and watching the costumed characters in Times Square pose for pictures with tourists. I even enjoy Coney Island in the hot summer months. (But don’t tell anyone.) And still get thrilled by the Empire State Building’s light shows celebrating holidays and events. The building right now is illuminated red each night to symbolize a heartbeat in tribute to those infected with CO)VID-19.
So many people say New Yorkers are just plain rude. I admit we are at times. I am. Yet I quickly learned after moving here that we are more often open hearted and have an incredible acceptance of anyone in need regardless of ethnicity.
We residents probably were somewhat slow to relinquish control of our daily lives when locked down, but soon united to fight this menace. Yes, I’m anxious and even a little stir crazy by now, but hanging tight makes more sense than reopening too soon. We know disaster recovery better than most.
I just finished rereading John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.” In that novel, Tom Joad kept moving forward on pure hope without a dime in his pocket. No one misfortune, death or adversity stopped him.
The Joad family’s despondency in the 1930s is eerily similar to our frustration today. Steinbeck describes best the unbelievable Joad hope which helped the family move forward each day in this conversation near the end of the book:
“Seems like our life’s over and done. What’s to keep everything from stopping; all the folks from just gitting tired and laying down?
“Hard to say, everything we do – seems to me is aimed right at going on. Seems that way to me. Even getting hungry – even being sick, some die, but the rest is tougher.”
New York City currently has more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other U.S. city, including more than 20,000 deaths. I wish I wasn’t living in this Inferno, but I still have hope. Our spring season of new beginnings is just delayed. Our future new normal certainly can’t be too far off, and when it comes, I will be living right here in Manhattan.
Ed Pouzar, New York City, is retired from Deloitte Consulting, where he once served as its director for the state of Utah, and a former columnist for the National Underwriter magazine.