I left the city a few weeks ago to eke out the shelter-in-place mandate where I can take long walks without wearing a mask or having to worry much about social distancing. Far from the city, it’s easy to maintain a safe distance from the few people I encounter outdoors.
Though I realize how lucky I am to be able to do this, I miss the city, especially at 7 p.m. I used to set the alarm for 6:55 every evening so we wouldn’t accidentally miss the time when New York opens its windows to cheer, clap and crash pots and pans. We thank and show our appreciation to health care workers and all the others who risk their lives to perform the essential services that make it possible for the rest of us to quarantine ourselves safely at home.
Even though we could barely hear or see our neighbors from the 35th floor, we joined the chorus in the hope that the intended audience would feel our support and recognition of their selfless service.
My alarm still rings daily to remind me that it is 7:00 and New York is cheering. But now, even farther away from neighbors who could hear and be heard, I give thanks in silence.
Tonight, as I was standing at my open balcony window at 7 o’clock, clapping and cheering as the health care workers returned home from their long 12-hour shifts, risking their lives to save ours, a young man in shorts stopped to talk to me. My balcony is only one story up and the window is 8-feet high and leads onto a little Juliet balcony, so everyone can see me there; sometimes people shout something from their cars or give me thumbs up in return.
But tonight, this young man left me in tears.
“I think I’m one of the people this is for,” he said. “And I want to tell you how much it means to me.”
I was stunned. So little to give for all that he’s doing, and yet I can’t stop crying. I wish I could tell him how deep is the gratitude in my heart to see such dedication and bravery at a time when there is so much else that I won’t name, because I’m not going to stain the wonder of this moment, of seeing the kind of humanity I have admired and respected all my life, standing in front of me and speaking with heartfelt gratitude about the decency he feels coming from all of us, locked down in this “joyless” city, yet showing up from our diverse solitudes to cheer those who are using their skills, energy, heart and moral courage on our behalf.
I thought it was worth sharing with all of you who are cheering too.
Yes, there is decency out there. Yes, I had the chance to see it tonight. Yes, it made a difference.
It made me believe in the long arc again; of justice or “what love looks like in public,” and especially of goodness. It made me believe we will survive this and create, if not a better world, at least a decent one again.
All I want to say is: Bless this health care worker who spoke out. Bless everyone who is helping get us through. Bless Upper West Siders and New Yorkers and everyone suffering through this lonely pandemic. May you stay well, safe, happy and find your own ways to give to our community following in the spirit of this amazing young man.
Like Julie, I want to believe that after Covid-19 the world will be better: more just, harmonious and cleaner. Looking beyond the catastrophe in Washington, it’s easy to find generosity and selflessness. Look no further than the Pennsylvania workers who volunteered to labor round the clock in 12-hour shifts for a month at their factory. Without ever going home, they slept on makeshift beds and produced millions of pounds of PPE materials, uncontaminated by the virus.
Self-sacrifice and the American can-do spirit are alive and well.