By Molly Rigoloso
I grew up in the Deep South where many fellow Southerners often wonder how in the world my husband and I have lived in Manhattan of All Places for nearly a decade. We live in an actual neighborhood, not the middle of Times Square, on a fairly quiet street on the Upper East Side, quiet being a relative term obviously. I give you this geography lesson to say that for better and for worse, New York City is our home and that means that our home is the epicenter of a global pandemic.
Our lives have been drastically altered over the past month even though we are developing a new normal with each passing day. At first, over a month ago, we didn’t know what we were bracing for exactly, but we were bracing nonetheless.
We actually drove through Times Square recently, on my birthday, and although this was not at all how I had planned to celebrate, I won’t soon forget it. The bright lights of the multitudes of billboards were dazzling and yet there was no one there to see them. No tourists taking selfies, no eager theatre-goers, no comedy show hustlers. Even the folks dressed up like off-brand Disney characters were nowhere in sight. It was unnerving to see a place that practically booms with energy and scores of people at any given moment completely empty.
All of life seems to now take place on Zoom, a virtual platform for meetings and conferences. If you have never been on Zoom before our current crisis, I bet you have now. My Zumba class that formerly took place at my local gym? Zoom. Happy hours with friends? Zoom. Our church services? Zoom. We even had our first ‘zoombombing’ recently where an uninvited attendee disrupted our Good Friday service with racial slurs. These are crazy times.
Then there’s the virus itself. Many people get it and recover while others do not. One of the saddest parts to me are the thousands of New Yorkers dying alone all over the city. Family members are not allowed in, only the most necessary medical professionals. This has been the biggest motivator to those of us living here to stay home and flatten the curve. I only leave the house to buy groceries and to take a 30- minute walk for exercise. When I do leave, I wear a paper mask or a bandana, I keep my distance from other people, and wash everything once I return: my hands, my cell phone, doorknobs, everything.
We bought a car a few weeks ago to eliminate the three different modes of public transportation my husband was navigating on his commute. It was one of the ways we were preparing when we didn’t quite know what we were preparing for. I’ll take a brief moment to tell you how proud I am of him. He’s a trauma/critical care nurse on the frontlines of this pandemic along with many of our closest friends. He was absolutely made for times like this and yet I cannot tell you how hard it is to watch him walk out the door everyday. We go through a whole decontamination process once he returns that is a part of our new normal. It is exhausting and absolutely necessary.
A couple of weeks ago, New Yorkers began celebrating medical workers in a unique way: every evening at 7 p.m. applause erupts as people lean out their windows to thank medical professionals and other essential workers. The celebration has grown in intensity with people drumming on pots and pans, ringing cowbells, anything they can do to make a lot of noise in appreciation of these ordinary folks doing quite extraordinary things. I get chills every time, the same way I did when Italian citizens took to their balconies and sang into the night in the midst of this horror.
I wish that it didn’t take a global pandemic for us to have this unifying bond of shared hardship and resilience, grief and sorrow, the very human experience of it all. However, I am hopeful for this moment in time. However long it may last. That our aim will not be to ‘get back to normal’ but that a new and better normal will emerge. Where we are slowed from our own personal striving and vain achievements and are more attuned to the needs and worth of our neighbors.
There is a place in Central Park where we used to meet our friends for picnics. Currently, that stretch of the park is dotted with medical tents caring for COVID-19 patients, fully equipped with ventilators at every bed. I am hopeful for future picnics there with my husband and friends, in fairer weather, on that very hallowed ground with the reminder that life is fleeting, that it can change all too quickly, and that we are made better and stronger by one another.
Molly Rigoloso is a writer who lives in Manhattan with her husband Justin. She is the niece of her beloved aunt and uncle, proud Madison residents. Bobby and Elsie Monk.