She hears it every night precisely at 7:00 PM.
But tonight, she was running late for her shift and talking on her phone as briskly as she was scurrying to confront what is left of “The Beast” inside New York Presbyterian Hospital. She and her colleagues – and those of us shouting our thanks at her from balconies, windows & the street - have managed to put this son-of-a-bitch of a virus on the run and bend it with the authority of a blacksmith pounding hot steel to a more desired shape.
Finally, after much wicked heat and hellish loss. As a nation, America reached 100,000 deaths. We watched the climb toward 100k as if it were an achievement. Well, it is. A grim one. But heroines emerged.
New York Presbyterian Hospital where so many of our heroes and heroines go to work each day
So one of distinction – one of many – zips by now-familiar signs in the windows of brownstones and buildings (“We luv our heroes”), which have been up since Passover, Easter and Ramadan. She passes by my high-end neighbors, one wearing a mask with a Chanel logo on it (We luv our fashion) and past the reopened Mexican food cart on Second Avenue, whose owners – a hard-working young married couple – gave me a joyful thumbs-up two days ago when I spotted them back at their spot for the first time. Behind our masks, we both nearly cried. They were back. So was I. (I luv their vegetable tacos. Soooo fresh.)
The heroine scurries the length of the street nine floors beneath us. She is short and earnestly cute. She is Asian and looks too young for her baggy blue scrubs and the combat duty she is again about to perform. She has come from the Lexington Avenue Subway station from one of the “outer boroughs.” Possibly the Bronx, now called the “Essential Borough.”
The disease has been tamped down considerably, and the Governor of New York says the city will reopen on June 8th, which in itself could trigger the loud rumbling sound of pots and pans, air horns, sirens, car horns and clapping hands which cascade down to her as she heads east. It remains as welcome as the deep blue of the sky above the buildings. During the Great Pause, the air cleared. But lately it has started to change back to a hazier shade again as cars, Ubers, contractors’ trucks and buses pour back onto the avenues. The M102 bus is no longer a ghost bus with only two or three essential workers riding it. I will never forget that image. It was spooky to see. It is good to see, but we will need to recall how clean the sky was. How fresh the air during the quarantine days. Can we find a balance after the “New Abnormal”? Can we schedule an annual New York Pause to let the earth around us breathe again?
We are all realizing how thin our lifeline was around Easter Sunday, as over 800 people died each night. So as the heroine zooms to her job on foot, we think what it would have been like to have fallen victim to COVID-19 on one of those heavy nights when the ambulances were full of customers and her ER was jammed with gurneys.
One thing for sure: she would have met us there and fought for us.
Elie Wiesel in 1998
I like meeting heroes and heroines. I have met a few in my life. Elie Wiesel was my favorite. He suffered greatly during the Holocaust and yet brought hope from his soul and it was poured into his community. In New York, fortunately, we have globally visible heroes who come here. We produce them the way other cities produce cars and corn.
My new heroine keeps walking quickly past the doormen who are working the lobbies of buildings on East 69th Street. They come outside, along with the buildings’ underground garage attendants, each wearing masks and clapping heartily.
She seems to barely notice. I cannot read her mind or her heart. She seems to have the emotional calibration of a hardened soldier marching by a cheering crowd of grateful citizens after having liberated their village. She marches on – although I see that she holds the phone up for whomever she is speaking with. I project a feeling of my own onto her at that moment. Since it was Mother’s Day not long ago and I had been thinking about my mom, who ended her years in a nursing home, I let myself believe she was holding the phone up to show her mother the cheering buildings.
My wife said she was probably hoping that more people would wear their masks.
We were about to enter a new phase. You could see and sense the flow of a hard-hit city trying to return, like a massive zombie or, better, Lazarus. Economically working toward a reopening, no one here was sure how the engine that generates $7 billion per year in tourism alone would restart The Big Apple.
We are way less certain now. Suddenly. Brutally.
That job was made harder last night when protests, triggered by a death in Minneapolis of a man at the hand of a rogue policemen, continued to go violent and off the rails like I have not seen in 30 years or since the time I was in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Last night stores in my neighborhood were vandalized. The emotional exhaustion from the virus has been replaced with – what? A terror of a new kind.
Suddenly all of this has new weight we did not expect and that no one in the community wants. The nurse now has another privilege as an essential worker: she is the only one allowed on the streets after the curfew.
Our masks were to have been our vital armor, but now we feel truly vulnerable. As masses of people crowd together to protest and then loot, The Beast watches, waiting.
Meanwhile the heroine, who worked to heal the city’s diseased, may ironically have another round of it to treat. And this one will include the awful poison of physical wounds.
Dr. Martin Luther King once asked us all to choose “chaos or community.” We will see how intelligent we are over the next few days.
NOTE: Look for our continuing series of interviews with this year’s Top7 Intelligent Communities.
Other “No Place BUT Home” Blog Posts:
- Part 1: Socially Distanced but Spiritually Connected – March 24, 2020
- Part 2: The Blitz – April 1, 2020
- Part 3: Six Feet – April 6, 2020
- Part 4: Dying Like Grandpa – April 13, 2020
- Part 5: And This is a Long Day – April 23, 2020
- Part 6: The Tunnel at the End of the Light – May 5, 2020
- Part 7: Epicenter – May 19, 2020
- Part 9: The Boards of Madison Avenue – July 21, 2020