Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to firstname.lastname@example.org
I believe in the constant roar of New York City. I believe in the palpable vibrations, the effervescent electricity, and the breathtaking volume of the downtown streets. I believe the chaos fuels those of us who call these cramped apartments our homes. So what happens to us when New York City grows still? What happens to the relentless noise when we no longer hear it?
Over the last few weeks, we have watched as our beloved city has transformed from a vibrant haven to a ghost town. Subways echo into stations, barren of riders. Our grocery stores are lined with empty shelves, reminiscent of the once regularly stocked goods we took for granted. Apocalyptic scenes continue to unfold in front of us, as our formerly crowded sidewalks give way to silence and solitude. We’ve begun to social distance, quarantine, and evacuate our cities, fleeing our daily routines and offices. As we navigate challenging times together, the current global pandemic will either unite or divide us. Regardless of your race, gender, socio-economic background, political perspective, or religious ideology, we are fighting a common enemy. Now more than ever, we must practice selflessness, empathy, and grace.
It feels almost impossible to not emphasize self-preservation. As we are bombarded with news, recommendations, social media content, closures, cancellations, and refunds, the metaphorical elephant on my chest grows heavier and heavier. As New York closes down, it is hard to not feel like it is closing in. In on you. In on your busy whirlwind life. In on your beloved family. In on your beautiful friends. In on your tireless job. In on your world.
I’ve found myself wondering what defines you if you are stripped of these external factors? Without your relationships with family, friends, hobbies, and career, what is left? Are you compassionate? Are you selfless? Creative? Self-sufficient? A rule follower? In a time where we are encouraged to stay home, distance ourselves from our daily routines, I’ve been left to wonder, what defines me when I am left to sit between four walls? How can I take this time to self examine rather than self destruct? What does your life look like as a still-life, a snapshot in time, pieces paused in action, waiting to be unpaused?
I won’t pretend I have the answers to this question, or any of the other questions we are all asking one another. I’m just as scared and confused, just as anxious and worried, just as frantic and alarmed. I have found comfort in knowing that for the first time in recent history, we are fighting a common enemy. We are fighting an illness that does not discriminate. We are fighting our natural instincts, our unanswered fears, and our innate desire to understand what we cannot control. We may not be able to dictate the unknown, however, we can, and must take ownership of the way we react.
We will be remembered for the way we behaved during this momentous moment. With social media prevalence, your actions are documented, and will not be easily forgiven. I beg you to second guess your choices. I beg you to place as much thought behind how you led your life in the coming weeks with just as much thought as you are placing behind mentally cataloging what you have recently touched. I beg you to be kind, buying enough supplies, and only enough, for what you need, not for what you want. Are you making things better for others, lending a helpful and compassionate hand? Are you recklessly socializing? Are you the one buying all of the toilet paper at Trader Joe’s? Are you taking this seriously?
I will be the first to admit that I am not an “alarmist”. I was the last one to head to the grocery store, last to cancel plans, and the first to question if we, as a culture, were over-reacting. As I sat on my fire escape overlooking the Lower East Side’s busiest nightlife scene, my heart sank as the silence echoed into the late Saturday night. I was able to make out singular conversations of the lonely passengers in the darkness. I could hear my own heartbeat, my breath, my panic erupting. I was wrong. I was absolutely undoubtedly wrong.
I say this because I am not alone.
Plenty of us questioned the validity of the panic. We are New York City, nothing affects us, right? Wrong. Painfully and undoubtedly wrong. I am not a doctor, nor am I an expert. I am a writer, expressing her deep concerns and wrongdoings regarding the severity of COVID-19. I am a writer, sharing her fears with other writers, New York City dwellers, and creatives that are wrestling with the same questions. I am a writer, begging for the responsibility of all that call New York City their home. This is bigger than our newly-found boredom, or our innate urge to socialize. This is bigger than us.
So, my question remains. What happens to us when New York City grows still? We grow stronger. We grow resilient and united. We must be responsible. One by one, we must spread compassion, offering a helping (sanitized) hand where we can. For those of us who are able-bodied, reconsider what you can do for those who have to plan how they are to navigate the now-limited city. Donate funds to your local food banks. Purchase online gift cards from your local business who rely on their customers for income. Research and contribute to fundraisers that donate hygiene products to those within the criminal justice system, where Purell is considered contraband. Stay inside and reconsider the way you can connect to yourself and your world. Redefine who you are without external factors. Who are you when the world goes dark? Who are you when the relentless noise of New York City grows still? Who are you when the enemy does not discriminate?
Feature Image via Jessica Golightly