North Chatham, New York — U.S.A.
Should you ask of us here in the hills of rural New York State, a region of apple orchards and dairy farms and green mountains and our hamlet of five hundred and three souls, my wife Kim and I are faring well enough since fleeing the big city three weeks ago. More than two hundred kilometers to the south lies New York City, population nine million—epicenter of the coronavirus global pandemic, and hometown of a dangerous buffoon in down in Washington whose name I shall spare you from mention.
Thank-you for asking. Dear readers, I appreciate your concern. I hope that you and your families are likewise healthy in this time of plague.
Since our primary residence is downstate, in the big city’s hustle-bustle borough of Manhattan, I also appreciate the little old farmhouse we acquired back in ’99, as both a weekend getaway and a real estate investment that should provide for us through our drooling years. Especially at this time, we are lucky and deeply privileged to have our retreat.
With the slower pace of life here in the countryside comes much time for reflection: on what has happened and is happening, to America and to the world beyond. A reoccurring thought is a newfound understanding: What everyone on Earth is undergoing is antithetical to a certain human instinct necessary for safety and survival.
Let me explain, by way of relating what occurred on my last day in the city, during a short Sunday morning walk up and down Ninth Avenue, on the west side of my mid-Manhattan neighborhood:
Ordinarily, the avenue’s four traffic lanes are jammed with cars and trucks, its sidewalks crammed full of shoppers—mostly us locals who patronize the hundreds of small shops on either side. On this day, however, with the plague well underway, there were zero vehicles in the six blocks of my walk—in pursuit of newspapers and bagels—and I was the sole human being…
…until I heard footsteps from behind, about halfway through my customary Sunday mission. I turned to see a fifty-something woman, bedraggled and obviously homeless in a city and nation that our politicians claim are the greatest and wealthiest the world has ever known. She had a crazed look on her face, this homeless woman. I knew from a glance, as we New Yorkers do, that she was harmless; besides which, she had a sweet smile.
I continued walking. Her footsteps grew closer and closer, ‘til I felt she was able to extend an arm to touch my shoulder. When I reached the entrance to my apartment building, I saw her reflection in the revolving glass door. I turned. She smiled again and scampered off, wordlessly.
What I realize today is that we human beings are no different from any other creature, in that we find our comfort—and our safety and identity—in the company of those of our species. Birds flock together, for instance, as do we.
All this poor woman wanted from me was to be in proximity to a fellow human creature, for I represented a few minutes of safety to her in an eerily empty avenue.
There is an odd emptiness even here as I write, in our countryside home north of Manhattan; where we and the rest of the community are obliged to live in solitary households. What used to be the custom at our little house—neighbors gathered for Saturday potluck dinners, and conversation long into the night—has gone with the wind. Photo credit