I once had a neighbor in Connecticut who used to hang over his Juliet balcony, beer in hand, and lob invitations at me as I lay on my chaise trying to read. Mind you I was well over forty and had recently had a child so he was either in need of rehab or an optometrist.
And then there was the neighbor in New York who couldn’t seem to reconcile himself to the fact that his poor beleaguered dog needed to go out on the regular. The poor dog would constantly pee on our doorstep while he waited for the elevator. And then we’d open our door, step out into the day and squish.
So neighbors. I get it. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t seem to get them to move.
Still, neighbors and friends and colleagues are the fabric of life. Outside of our families, they’re how we connect to the world. And now here we are, cordoned off in our houses and apartments, and we’ve lost that vital thread. And sure, there’re all those ZOOM meetings. But they’re hard to navigate and it’s not the same.
BTW, did you see the article in Vogue about how to dress for an online meeting? Seriously, your slip is showing Vogue. We all get it – Rachel Maddow established the standard: something reasonable on top and whatever floats your boat below the deskline. For me it’s basically all yoga gear all the time anyway but now I make sure I have a clean top on when I’m Zooming so there’s a plus.
I’ve also really enjoyed seeing all of us sans makeup. It’s very intimate, seeing all the clean faces and sleepy eyes. And I love seeing where everyone - and how everyone - lives. All the private intel. Who makes her bed. Who has real art on the walls. Who’s a cleaner and who takes solace in the mess. We think we know one another. But who knew the drab little man who never says a word had painted his walls and ceilings red? I wonder what’s in his closet…
So Zoom has its satisfactions – we’re getting to know one another in a whole other way. And unlike England where the military police are in the streets and you’re only allowed out once a day to buy milk, we can still take a walk or ride a bike and see one another from a distance. In fact it’s actually crowded here on rue de Middle Beach. People are generally observant, swerving away from you and yours when they pass. Smiling, waving hi. Asking how everyone is. But again, no hugs, no close talk, none of the rewards or glue of friendship.
Lines are even trickier. I saw a fight break out in the post office, one woman holding up her hand in the universal “halt” salute and the other taking umbrage. And then they had a rather loud chat about it, both sides apologizing. And then they got back to fighting because why not. We’ve got to let out the stress and better to do it on line in the post office with a neighbor than in our homes where chances are someone’s gonna go for the knives. In fact that’s how most of my meetings start. Have you killed your husband yet? No. You?
Everyone’s overtaxed right now. There’s no money coming in – and nowhere to spend it in any event. And a lot of us are grossly overburdened. It’s not easy to homeschool your children in the best of times. And work. And Zoom. And then Top Chef dinner from a can of onion rings, mustard and half a raisin bagel.
And these are the mundane problems. Lots of us have friends and colleagues and neighbors and family who are sick. And there are no treatments and conflicting protocols and not enough equipment and terrible predictions about worse to come. My email and slack accounts are filling up with one person after another who’s suddenly come down with the virus. It’s frightening and tragic and we have very little bandwidth left to deal with it.
And yet… A few days ago I almost fell off my bike on Middle Beach when I spotted a blonde in a red bikini standing in the water up to her hips. It was 40 degrees here in Connecticut, which means the water was in the 30s. A crowd gathered – all of us six feet apart – and then the naiad dove into the waves. I held my breath. Were we going to have to rescue her? Mercifully, she emerged and then calmly walked out of the water and toweled off. Glorious. And inspiring. And yet more evidence that human beings can withstand a lot.
We will get through this - if we help one another. Andrew Cuomo said something brilliant the other day. And for those of you who haven’t been watching his daily pressers, start. He’s full of facts and common sense and is very reassuring. What he said was that while we needed to “social distance” for all the obvious reasons, we also needed to “spiritually connect.” And this brings me to this week’s suggestion.
Pick one of your neighbors to help. And I know, you either stopped speaking to everyone on your block five years ago or you’re too damned busy. But hear me out. We are being asked to physically isolate. And that may soon become a requirement. By thinking about someone else nearby – an elderly person who’s alone, a doctor who’s in the thick of it, a mother who’s trying to homeschool three kids – we will break our spiritual isolation.
I’m sewing masks for the doctors in the neighborhood. I’m a sewer and have a machine so that works for me. If you’re homeschooling your own kids, why not have them draw a card you can slip under your elderly neighbor’s door. It will occupy the kids and break your isolation and hers. Reach out to the medical personnel on your block and see if you can walk their dog or pull up their garbage cans or drop off groceries. Call a harried neighbor and offer to read to their children over the fence or watch them while they play in the yard so the parents can take a shower and get a break.
There are all sorts of small things we can do that will help connect us and make us feel less alone. This is going to take some time and by reaching out to one another, the time will pass more gently. And we will be calmer and happier if we hold each other close… at least spiritually.
(I welcome your thoughts about life during the pandemic. This is not a column about politics so dump that someplace else – this is about how we are coping with our changed circumstances. I want it to connect us and perhaps give us a few coping skills along the way, a chuckle or two, and maybe even a little hope. Email me at WelcomeToThePandemic@gmail.com. And find me on Twitter at @epagenyc or on Facebook at ElizabethPage.)