My life has been canceled. I'm a sociable, single senior who lives alone in Manhattan. When I last went to church, I wondered how we would “pass the peace” to our neighbors. Instead of shaking hands, we bumped elbows or put our hands in the prayer position and nodded to our neighbors, like “Namaste” in yoga class. That was Sunday, March 8. Then I got a message that services will be streamed. This past Sunday I watched from home as two ministers and a few singers delivered an uplifting service in an empty sanctuary.
I went to the Whitney Museum on March 10 and had plans to meet my friend there a few days later, but now it is closed, like other museums. I went to my writing group last week, but I imagine that we may start to meet online. The Strand Bookstore notified me that I was getting a refund for two canceled readings. A friend from New Jersey was coming in for lunch. We canceled. I frequent the New York Public Library a lot, and now it's closed. Restaurants and bars may be next.
My life was going well until a few weeks ago. I'm happily retired from college teaching. (Now I'm extra grateful I left, because I never wanted to teach online.) I'm a people-oriented person who likes going to openings and readings. I love my social-activist church, my yoga class (canceled), my weekly writing workshop and weekly singing group. I was almost in tears when my choral group met for the last time, on March 13 (hope it resumes in a month). We sat far apart and closed with “We Shall Overcome."
I live in Westbeth Artists Housing, in Greenwich Village, and had a successful reading of my novel in progress in the community room on March 4. About 50 people attended.
Everyone liked the chapter I read and told me I had to finish the book. We chatted and drank champagne. Hard to believe that wonderful evening was only two weeks ago. All events in my building are now postponed, including the flea market and a big exhibit in the gallery.
Along with my neighbors at Westbeth, we survived 9/11, watching the horror from our rooftop. We survived Hurricane Sandy, which flooded our basement. But those disasters brought us together. The virus is isolating us. We got a memo from management not to hang out in the lobby. My building is a NORC — a naturally occurring retirement community — with more than half the residents over 60. The lobby, usually bustling with activity and neighbors chatting, feels like a morgue.
All of this is depressing. I feel like I need an extra therapy session. But the virus has helped me to put things in perspective, especially my minor health issues. Stuff I worried about a few weeks ago seems relatively minor: my chronic sinus infection, which finally went away, and a funky crown that probably needs an implant. Who cares? Should I bother sticking to my cholesterol-reducing diet? Why am I depriving myself of thing I love, like eggs and cheese?
I so appreciate my neighbors being really friendly and saying, “Hi, Kate. How are you doing?” I did not appreciate the neighbor who stepped to a far corner of the elevator and said something like, “Is that three feet? I need to keep my social distance.” I did not mind her stepping away from me, but did she have to make a speech about it?
Of course, I'm being careful, washing my hands like a nut, not touching the elevator buttons, not touching door handles. But there are so many things that we touch. I freaked out when I stupidly picked up that bar in the supermarket that separates my groceries from those of another shopper. I now wear plastic gloves when I go to the store.
I am over 60, which puts me in a high-risk group. Other than that, I'm a healthy person who walks two to three miles day. At least walking in the Hudson River Park has not been canceled — yet.
If I manage to survive this virus without getting sick, I will still suffer from anxiety, boredom and social isolation. I already miss getting hugs from my friends. I miss the interaction of being with people. I know that things could be worse. I have a nice sunny apartment with food, wine, books, music. But I'm lonely. The one silver lining is that I'll have plenty of time to hunker down and finish my novel.
Kate Walter is a freelance writer in Manhattan.