“I hope you are coping well during this challenging time.” “How are you coping during this difficult time?” “How have you been coping after wearing only sweatpants for the last nine months?” These questions have been and continue to be the preamble to nearly every e-mail (or, sometimes, phone call) I have received since the pandemic was declared, like a war, upon our lives.
As was true for many of us, my coping at the beginning of the pandemic was rough, like riding over jagged terrain in a vehicle that did not have strong tires. It was eerie to suddenly shift from living in a city where there is always something to do, somewhere to go and meeting with someone, to living in one that looked as if it had been turned upside down and shaken, emptied of all of its inhabitants and vehicles. My good-sized world, which had revolved around church, theaters, museums, and get-togethers with friends, became lilliputian. I took daily walks around my neighborhood, becoming so well acquainted with its streets that I could almost make the tour blindfolded. While I could hear the birdsongs more clearly, they were weak competition against the persistent and piercing wail of the ambulances making their mournful trips to the hospital not far from my home.
Sometime in April, however, I gradually realized that I already possessed the ability to cope with the isolation and the strange loss of the sense of time which other people were also experiencing.
I was an only child and was always able to amuse myself and enjoy my own company when neighborhood playmates were unavailable. My dolls, toys, and books filled my solitary hours. Once I grew to school age, there was studying and homework to do; but reading and music (both to listen to and by playing an instrument) replaced the dolls and toys, providing an intellectual and spiritual stimulation that has lasted to this day.
These self-caring tools have come to my aid in this time of pandemic. Although I am also retired and involved in other activities, the pandemic has provided me with even more time to read, write, and to cook (but no sourdough, I regret to say). My music recordings have reacquainted me with Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and the sounds of Motown. Living in Queens, where it is still possible to see the wide sky, I now look more intently at the sun, moon, and clouds.
When those magnificent soul restorers and sites of beauty and peace the Metropolitan Museum, the Bronx Botanic Gardens, and Wave Hill all reopened, I practically ran to them. Thanks to my church’s livestreaming services, I can listen to and watch the services, and on Thursdays I assist at our online Evening Prayer service. In May, I began making signs bearing uplifting messages and posting them on my building’s bulletin board. Fellow residents have liked them, and my doing this for others is a source of quiet joy.
How am I coping? Quite well, I think.