The New York Times called it right when they deemed the losses of COVID-19 “incalculable.” This global pandemic feels like a cartoon safe that has landed on our collective heads before we had a chance to get out of the way. These past few months have been painful and challenging for us all.
Still, there remain silver linings amidst the chaos, glimpses of enormous heroism and triumphs of the human spirit. Here in New York City, our daily lives came to a screeching standstill in the hope of containing further spread of the dreaded illness.
Being an involuntary shut-in has kicked up a series of new rituals. The learning curve has been steep, brief, and shifting.
But we are adaptable creatures. Time has begun to soften the edges of fear and paralysis. The kindness in my midst has been, by and large, remarkable. The staff in my building has made our residence livable and cozy. Essential workers keep us in food, prescriptions, and sundries. Here are some new protocols that make life manageable (even gratifying!) during these poignant times.
More frequent phone calls. Sharing clips of grainy family home movies to remind us of our cherished history. Increased verbal affection.
For over 50 years my family has played a word game called “Guggenheim” (very similar to Scattergories) with a pen, paper, mad giggles, and light competition. We now do this over video chat and have played rousing games in this alterna-format. The visuals of my loved ones in Virginia, NYC, and Philly sharing some spirited goofiness together is heartening.
For years our son played “Trivial Dispute” with his friends, a group participation game at a local pub run by a witty, charismatic host. When the bars shuttered, the host took his quirky franchise online. Now we get to play together in our respective digs and pool our generational knowledge.
With Building Personnel
I feel fortunate to live in a building in Greenwich Village with skilled, friendly staff. These masked sentries keep the place clean (people in hazmat suits sanitizing the lobby were a daunting but welcome sight), tight and welcoming. They have always been a pleasure to deal with, but the dynamics have changed these days and there is no more simple handing over of packages or food deliveries. Now there is actual yellow crime scene tape draped around the doorman’s station to keep us all at a safe distance. Deliveries have evolved into a poignant little dance with masks, squirts of Purell, gestures, and salutes of thanks.
The days of easy physical access to our buddies feels almost quaint. Last-minute trips to coffee shops, chats in diners, and gossipy strolls are on hold. But I am warmed by increased contact with friends past and present through other means. Phone dates contain revelations. Email and text exchanges are more connective.
A friend and I mask up and go to our local panini place, open for take-out. We pay and tip through an elegant system of plastic barriers, ever-present hand sanitizer, and a wooden slat that safely transfers both payment and panini. We then sit on opposite sides of a stoop or hang by an empty building that provides a modicum of crouching comfort. We relax and shoot the breeze, almost like the old days!
With Essential Workers
Chitchat with cashiers, pharmacists, and shopkeepers has become warmer. These overworked angels are indispensable assets for a needy public. I cherish an encounter with a cheery cashier, plying her trade behind the now-universal plastic shielding. I tend to wear large mismatched earrings, sometimes of a prurient nature. While I was paying for my items, the cashier asked if I would mind coming closer to the plastic sheeting, as she was “mesmerized” by my earring. I obliged. When she saw the oversized terrarium swinging from my ear lobe, she laughed so hard her mask fell off.
I trust that time will be our friend as medical advances are made and vaccines become a reality. Meantime, I am living my life with infinitely cleaner hands, a wardrobe of face coverings, and a new set of rituals. The city feels smaller and more accessible these days, a kind of Mayberry with masks. Joy is often found in the minutiae. And it can sustain us during these axis-shifting times.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons