A year of living safely

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The last trip I took was to London a year ago for a board meeting of a non-profit that I am involved with. I was reading at the time about the virus that had shut down Wuhan, China and considered for a moment if I should take the trip. I decided to go ahead with the trip because the virus seemed to be confined to Asia. I was questioned when I arrived at Heathrow Airport about any recent trips to China, but there appeared to be no concern for the silent virus that was most definitely spreading across Europe at the time.

I had no idea what was to come, and I look back on the life I led in February 2020 with a great sense of loss and self-criticism for not appreciating every moment. It is as though we have all been through a near-death experience and when I think back on my travel abroad, the daily subway trip I took every day to work and the last crowded restaurant that I visited in March 2020 where we were seated at closely arranged tables, I feel grateful that I emerged unscathed.

My office sent everyone home in Mid-March when the city of New York shut down. When I left my office, I thought I would be back in a few weeks and had the date of early April checked off in my head as the time life would return to normal. It did not happen. I essentially lived my life indoors and isolated as a single person from March through July when I started meeting friends for outdoor meals and made the best of the sidewalk café culture. I am grateful that I was able to continue working from home and to have been able to shelter-in-place safely, and somehow, even after being exposed, to have escaped becoming infected.

I have survived the past year by mostly living in the virtual world and keeping myself very busy. But I miss the real world and I will never walk through it again without paying full attention.  I miss the excitement of packing a suitcase with the anticipation of going somewhere, riding the subway with my fellow New Yorkers, listening to snippets of over-heard conversations in coffee shops, and going to the theater. When the lights go on again on Broadway, I will buy tickets to as many shows as I can afford and will be sitting in an orchestra seat with the treasured Playbill in my hand.

As I have stated before, we have all been through a near death experience. I have lost several friends to the disease and have lived the past year in fear that I could be next. Every encounter has been a risk decision. Those of us that have decided to live safely and follow CDC guidelines have had to weigh the risks of going to the grocery store or pharmacy or hair salon or meeting a friend for an outdoors meal against the isolation of remaining safely at home. My life will never be the same again.  It is as though every day during this pandemic I saw the mysterious white light that some say they experienced when they were on the verge of death.

There has been much written about the long haulers who were infected from the virus and have been suffering from residual symptoms months later. I think we have all become long-haulers in one way or another. I am starting to accept the reality that most of this year will be like the last, with my life lived mostly indoors and the world only able to open up slowly as the long-awaited vaccine starts to become available to the larger population.

New York – the city that I have had a long-lasting love affair with – has been deeply scarred. If there is any hope that we will survive this long-haul disease, it is through the spirit of rebuilding that I know will come.  And I am starting to imagine what it will be like when everyone with a dream and hopefully some government funding, can pull up their gates and open once again for business.


About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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