Right now, I’m on Day 30- or 40-something of lockdown with my husband and two grown kids in New York City, looking out at deserted streets.The only traffic outside consists of ambulances and Amazon Prime delivery trucks.
I’d grown up in NYC, but moved out to the nearby suburbs when my kids were young.
A year ago, with our college-age kids nearly out of the nest, we moved back to the Big Apple, excited by this city’s promise of midlife reinvention. It was time for a change.
And at first, it was good—really good—being able to walk everywhere unencumbered by a car, meeting friends for dinners out (“You want Malaysian or Nepalese tonight?”) without the worry of catching the last commuter train back to the ‘burbs. I realized how much I’d missed New York City.
That was before coronavirus arrived, and changed everything.
Now, it’s terrifying and tragic here, although so far, at least, I am lucky: Neither I nor my immediate family has contracted COVID-19, which has taken the lives of more than 13,000 souls here.
To be healthy in the epicenter of a pandemic means I have nothing to complain about.
Like many New Yorkers, I’ve gotten a flurry of calls and texts from friends and family urging me to flee the city. Some go so far as to ask, point-blank, whether I regret that I so recently moved here.
Many people assume that I must miss my old house in the suburbs, which I’d recently sold. That I miss its yard and garden, which I could be tending right now without a mask covering my face. Or miss stretching my legs in front of my old fireplace, without the fear of pressing the elevator buttons of the high-rise I live in now, which might be covered in COVID-19.
Who, at this tragic time, wouldn’t miss their old life in the ‘burbs, and regret their decision to move to NYC?
But here’s the truth: I have no regrets, and don’t want to leave. Here’s why.
Reason 1: The virus isn’t a city-centric germ
As the pandemic took root in New York City, concerned friends in faraway places texted, “You need to GTFO now!”
I lay awake at night, wondering if they were right, thinking of my city pals who’d quite literally headed for the hills.
A dear friend who had flown to Florida to take care of relatives when the pandemic began kindly offered me her house in the ‘burbs. Her desire was to give me and my family relief from the oppressive tsunami of anxiety in the city.
But I realized it would be the same stress, different Zip code. The supermarket would still feel like a scene out of a terrifying virus movie, in the vein of “Contagion” or “Outbreak.”
I would still be fighting for FreshDirect delivery slots and frantically swabbing everything down with disinfecting wipes. COVID-19 is an awful, equal-opportunity disruptor around the globe.
Much as I was touched by my friend’s offer, I chose to stay put.
Reason 2: I am loyal to NYC healthcare
Even when I moved to the suburbs, I kept most of my NYC doctors for continuity and because I think (translation: I know) they are the best of the best.
I was commuting in daily for my job anyway, so it made sense.
I’ve been seeing these M.D.s for years, so if I or a loved one were to get sick, I’d know who to call and believe that I could get good treatment.
In the suburbs, the idea of being in a small community with a small, easily overwhelmed hospital wouldn’t offer much comfort.
And although the NYC medical system has been strapped and stretched to the limit, I take heart in the thousands of retired frontline workers who have stepped up, as well as the ready-to-graduate medical school students who are joining the fight and the plane-loads of workers from elsewhere across the country who flew here to help.
Reason 3: Despite what you’ve heard, there is nature in New York City
“You sure must miss your yard right now,” a friend said when asking whether I was doing OK in NYC. Damn straight, of course I do!
The lilacs my husband planted for me must be gearing up to bloom; the lilies of the valley are probably perfuming the air; and the cardinals, chipmunks, and baby bunnies are likely frolicking in true Disney-esque fashion.
That said, we were never those “spend the day in the backyard” kind of people. That’s part of the reason we moved.
And even in NYC, I can still get a nice hit of nature, even at this grim time. Once properly masked and gloved, I can walk around and see spring unfold in local parks.
The ornamental pear trees nearby bloomed bright white, daffodils are still swaying, and the cherry blossoms are falling to the ground, like crepe paper underfoot after a high-school dance.
Is it as good as a glorious suburban half-acre? The city-person answer is: absolutely.
Reason 4: My city roots run crazy-deep
Other than my sojourn in the suburbs, NYC is the only place I’ve lived. I was born here, educated here, got married here, gave birth here. All members of my small family are here.
As we reached the peak of the outbreak, I engaged in catastrophic thinking at 2 a.m., wondering if the bridges and tunnels might get sealed off, as they were on 9/11.
If that were to happen, I did not want to be on the other side in the ‘burbs.
I wanted to feel as if I could walk or bike my way to my mother and sister, who were also inside the NYC perimeter.
I did not want to be stuck on the porch of my lovely suburb house, wondering how they were. It’s not just where you live, it’s who lives nearby.
Reason 5: I want to be on the ground and on the grid
Maybe you’ve watched Gov. Andrew Cuomo give his daily talks, and refer to our being “New York Strong.”
People who live in the city have made the choice to live somewhere very intense and very stressful.
For whatever reason, we flourish when packed together in tight spaces; it’s some kind of foxhole-bonding that I’ll leave to the sociologists to fully explain, but here’s my take.
Being a New Yorker forces you to engage with the dark truth of the situation. It compels you to support those less fortunate. My family, like so many others, has donated food to the frontline workers and held fundraisers for charity.
And then there is the clapping every evening at 7 p.m.—a daily wellspring of joy where New Yorkers open the windows wide and whoop and bang pot lids together.
It’s an expression of thanks for the frontline workers who risk their lives to care for the sick, and an expression of hope. Every day, new voices join. Every day, the roar gets louder.
For me, this is the essence of what I love about New York City, or any city really—being thrown together with strangers and finding common ground.
We’re here for the good times, and we’re here for the bad. And we’re going to be in it, and get through it, together.