Bringing to Mind: Things Invisible
"The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances." ~ Aristotle
In these irregular days, the number of years we've lived and where, the work we do, our political leanings, the language we speak and the colour of our skin frame the way we experience a deadly, invisible contagion. As billions of flying droplets settle and resettle silently over the world, twisting and reshaping life into something unrecognizable, accommodations are made with ease, or barely at all.
What we see and hear filters through old fears and rusty virtues. Stories make us mad, make us cry, leave us confused, call us to action. Sleep is restless, disturbed by nighttime awakenings filled with uncertainty, regret and self-doubt, assaulted by dreams of falling from tall buildings, strangers knocking on our window, empty offices and formless monsters chasing us in space.
We watch, saying we can't believe what we see - strong young men, frustrated by outdated technology stand under the glaring heat of Florida sun, clutching wrinkled paper applications, pleading for desperately needed dollars to feed wife and child. On roads transformed into parking lots, mothers, fathers, the elderly, the 'food insecure', silence car engines and wait in the dark for bags of peanut butter, rice, milk, cereal, bananas and beans. "Will it be gone by the time we get there?", they ask. "Are we too late?".
I'm sad for my fellow New Yorkers. I'm sad for those driven by need, but also generosity, whose determination and courage brings them out into streets where the usual energies of life are replaced by echos of death and failure and the unknown. I'm sad for those who can't pay their rent, those alone, those un-moored and grieving. I'm sad and sick and damned mad for the Black and Brown, reminded once again through loss of life and long-standing indignities, the stark truth of what it means to live in a society failed and ignorant in its promise of equality.
I'm uplifted and amazed by stories of heroism, and selflessness, endless forms of creativity, people clapping and laughing and connecting with the light of hope and empathy in eyes speaking above masked smiles we cannot see. I'm elevated by signs of joy made possible by a single day of sun turning grey, northern skies into blue. I'm moved, above all and deeply, by human dignity.
Some stories touch the heart and haunt the mind more than others. A healthcare worker traveling daily on the subway spoke of her surprise at how many - too many - elderly passengers in need of medical care, food banks and community centers, share her morning commute. Death by virus weighed against death brought on by no human contact, no warm meal, no care for a body dependent on prescriptions and shots and the watchful eye of a trusted practitioner.
As long as I can remember I've been intrigued by the site of older men and women in the middle of this city quick to embrace the young and beautiful, the energetic, the ones assuming a youthful superiority - a city that learns to ignore the once vibrant nearing the end of life's transformation. My eyes follow the no longer sure-footed, strides shortened and slowed, bodies wrapped in faded, oversized sweaters and skirts and too-long ties from days when garments were filled by the flesh of younger form.
I've watched them leave the neighbourhood market, shoulders slumped, heads jutting forward, arms appearing elongated, drawn down by plastic bags with eggs and butter, boxes of tea, jars of strawberry jam and loaves of bread. They live in buildings with no doorman to say hello or lend a hand, the oldest buildings with faded walls and stairs to climb, with heavy metal doors that make a thick, thumping sound as they close, like doors in prisons and wards securing the mentally ill.
But they were you. They were me. They were the young, the involved, the city dweller and city lovers. The ones who kept up with the latest trend, met their lovers in restaurants with white cloths and waiters with short jackets and exotic accents. They raised their children, prepared lunches and attended PTA meetings, saw themselves in the over-priced dress in the Fifth Avenue window, rode in cabs, held down jobs, dreamed and loved and imagined. They were us.
Now they're elderly - in the middle of something no amount of planning could have prepared them for. In these years as I've wondered about their lives, the word 'dignity' always came to mind. It's there in the way they keep on and keep up, one foot in front of the other, a living, breathing part of a city that renders them as invisible as the thing we now fear.
If you see them, will you care? Will you, for one minute, abandon your own fear to walk with them as they cross the street, comment on the day, ask if you might carry their bag? Will you admire their hat or once stylish herringbone jacket, will you make mention of something we share, what we're going through together, will you talk about the weather? Will you offer the gift of visibility?
Thank you for being here. Please pass posts on to friends and family.