And Maybe That’s Okay.
First things first. Before we discuss the pulse of our major metropolis, let us take a moment to mourn the 175,000 actual lives lost to Coronavirus across our nation, 32,451 of which are New Yorkers.
And for those of us who have been lucky enough to remain healthy, to have contracted the virus and survived, to be asymptomatic, there is still a sense of loss. We’ve all died a million little deaths in the loss of our jobs, our gatherings, our places, our trips, our autonomy, our identity.
I’m an actor. My community and personal identity are deeply tethered to New York. I was here to see bodies forklifted into freezer trucks, the run on supplies, the marches, the curfews, the fireworks, the plywood, the influx of homeless, the blatant drug use, the petty crime.
I do not have a Pollyanna-ish view on what this town has seen and done and weathered and I recognize that my privilege automatically makes my experience easier than what so many New Yorkers are facing.
And yet- I feel the heartbeat. How can it be dead?
How can it be dead as I take a walk on a sunset-drenched Thursday night while outdoor dining, dripping in string lights, is alight with inventively placed tables full of sweating cocktail glasses and nattering conversations?
How can it be dead when I pass a sleepy nurse in scrubs and she lights up to return my high-five?
How can it be dead when I run past the park and see spaced out revelers inhaling the sweet green air with covertly covered beers and stacks of books?
How can it be dead when I weave in and out of bike lanes full of intrepid delivery makers and double-parked vans for a million different businesses?
How can it be dead when our animal shelters are nearly empty and the sidewalks are full of long, languid, happy four-legged walks?
How can it be dead when a spat with a stranger over a coveted street parking spot devolves into a tearful, moving conversation about race and community?
How can it be dead when we marched and advocated and learned and knelt and flooded the streets?
How can it be dead when we’re actually listening? When, for the first time, we actually have the time?
Yes, New York is dead as we knew it. And it’s my belief that it needed to die. It was cold, harsh, busy, unsustainable. It was addicted to more, to amassing, to crashing forward into the future without reverence for the past.
And the New York that’s emerging in the wake of this pandemic? It isn’t perfect. It’s challenging. It has battles to be fought, new paths to forge. It’s different. It’s changing. It’s adapting. It’s transitioning. And so are we.
In the way it always does, New York City is mirroring a greater transformation that’s happening inside all of us.
None of us will ever be the same folks we were in February of 2020. Those versions of self have died with all the preconceived notions we had about our lives. But so many of those lives were unsustainable, just like New York’s. We pushed too hard, went too fast, spoke without listening, assumed without learning, told ourselves stories that just weren’t true.
Those of us who are lucky enough to survive this pandemic must understand that this season of our lives happened for a reason. It will be different for each individual, but I implore you to quiet your fear just long enough to look inside and understand what you might be meant to learn and hear right now. It isn’t what we wanted, but maybe what we needed.
Learning to live in a sticky, uncomfortable place usually means you’re growing. Following the fear usually means you’re learning. Letting go of schedules, plans, and assumptions, allowing grace, forgiveness, and humility, releasing control while asserting your power, self-care above all and devotion to others- I see these things within us all, where we never could before.
Especially for the young- it’s time for us to understand WHO you are without the publicized quantifiers of WHERE you are and WHO you’re with and WHAT you’re doing.
In such a politicized, divisive time, who and what keeps your soul singing? What makes you want to shout, and can you shout without announcing it? What are you doing for optics and what are you doing because it’s the heart-forward honest use of your platform? What will you do when you’re given the gift of time?
But back to New York.
If you need to justify your departure by imagining the death of Manhattan, I understand. There is no fault in leaving a situation that is fiscally unsustainable or wrong for the mental and/or physical health of you or your family. I do not begrudge anyone who has left our city temporarily or permanently. I myself have been privileged and fortunate to take small trips to the lake, to go camping, to visit relatives in neighboring states. Taking care of you and yours is a priority that needs no judgment.
But to call an island dead that still houses so many- so many who are working, hustling, inventing, trying, thinking, listening, learning, and adjusting like CHAMPIONS- well it just isn’t true.
We’re all mini-New Yorks, even if you’re not a New Yorker. We’ll never be the same. There’s a lot of unknown and a lot of work to do. But we’re most certainly, and gratefully, alive.