A Letter From Queens (In The Midst Of Coronovirus)

What is it like living in a "hot spot" during a global pandemic? Nora Gomez-Strauss tells us.
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Nora Gomez-Strauss, our arts & culture editor, is sharing her experience in Queens, NYC right now—what she misses, how she is coping emotionally, and what she is most looking forward to when we all emerge. 

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A crowded bar. Clapping after “Showtime!” on the subway. Laughter on a playground. My son’s classmates shouting “Helloooo!” as they line up outside of school in the morning. Sitting with my coworkers. Hugging my parents. These are just a few of many things I am missing so much right now. “Look at them all shaking hands. Look at that busy street,” is what I often think while binge-watching a tv show before bed.

The days of working from home, while being a teacher in remote school, while being a toddler entertainer, while attempting to keep sane are exhausting. We are very lucky to be healthy, be together, have a loving home, and food on the table. And even with all of this, some days are difficult. When our first child was born almost six years ago, my husband and I ran into a notoriously anti-social neighbor in the elevator and, after looking down at our newborn son, she looked at us and uttered the first and only words she’s ever said to us, “The days are long and the years are short.” Lately, it feels like the days are long and the weeks are short. It is hard to believe that we are already in week 4 of “on pause” in New York, and it is also hard to believe that we have so long left to go.

Like 9/11, like Hurricane Sandy, this whole experience has left us all grasping at things that we hold sacred to provide a bit of comfort. We re-watch movies we know are going to make us laugh or cry, listen to our favorite records, and I revisited one of my favorite poems, which against the backdrop of closed museums, theaters, and concert halls, seems doubly poignant:

Monet's Waterlilies by Robert Hayden

Today as the news from Selma and Saigon

poisons the air like fallout,

I come again to see

the serene, great picture that I love.

Here space and time exist in light

the eye like the eye of faith believes.

The seen, the known

dissolve in iridescence, become

illusive flesh of light

that was not, was, forever is.

O light beheld as through refracting tears.

Here is the aura of that world

each of us has lost.

Here is the shadow of its joy.

Hayden’s poem is a salve and provides even a bit of strength as the constant serenade of ambulance sirens plays outside of our Queens apartment. I have always treasured art, music, and literature, but as of late, I am reminded that they are a part of our survival, part of what keeps us mentally and emotionally healthy, especially when seeing posts like this on Instagram. Drawing with our favorite illustrators, watching daily concerts, virtually touring museums, listening to stories — these have all become my family’s stability in this time of uncertainty. I am envious of all of the podcast, book, and new hobby consumption of my childless friends, but I’m also comforted that it makes them less alone. When we FaceTime cocktail (that’s definitely a thing now for everyone, right?) with our friends, the talk is always about what we are watching or listening to (in addition to expressing how terrified we are). We discuss what we miss most and what we look forward to again one day.

I can’t wait to walk in a crowded midtown Manhattan again one day. I can’t wait to complain about someone tall standing in front of me at a concert. I can’t wait to pause in front of a work of art I have never seen before. I can’t wait to see the art I adore so much that I can picture myself there when I close my eyes.

I can’t wait to see each other again. I know we will. 

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