8 million people in the City of New York. 2 million residents of the Island of Manhattan. Another 2 million daily commuters. 20 million Americans in New York state. One of them gets Coronavirus. And his son lives in your building. What do you do?
Well, firstly, you try call home. But it’s 7 p.m., which means at 2 a.m. in South Africa. Unsurprisingly, nobody answers. So you go to dinner. And as you walk you hear guys talking, calling their parents, ordering Ubers, booking trains, hiring cars, checking flights, and all you can think is:
And then you leave dinner and feel an eerie quietness. “It’s quite nice being alone,” you think, “school will be back on Wednesday. Until then I’ll be productive”. But then it isn’t. It won’t be. Not for another week at least. You’re told on Sunday that school is cancelled for eight more days and so you sit in your dorm room counting seconds and wondering if it’s late enough in New York that your parents might be just waking up seven time zones away and have the time and wherewithal on a crispy autumn Monday morning to chat.
So when all of this happens, what do you do? And who comes through for you? And where do you find relief?
I think the answer is probably different for everyone. Some guys fly home. Some wait a little longer and see. Some guys go to friends or go on spring break (Frum Jews can get breaks too!!)
But it’s hard. It is. It’s cold and dark and lonely and tomorrow’s Purim but nobody’s around. It’s eerie and quiet and a little bit spooky and you kind of have to find a way to buckle up, grab your tissues – use them – and then throw them away. To get over your sorrows is easier said than done in a cold, dusty dorm room in Washington Heights.
So you go to friends for Shabbas. Jews have THE most remarkable ability to welcome guests. Maybe not Jews specifically. I’m happy to include anyone who offers you a bed, bathroom, shower, 3 meals a day, a car and their WiFi code all free of charge in the select group of remarkable, remarkable individuals and families who bring a unique, bright and beautiful light into this world. New York has been indescribable in that regard – to see how people have opened their homes and their lives for me – have allowed me to be a son to them (to the very best of their ability) has been a totally humbling and deeply moving experience.
But you’re still a guest. By no fault of your host – NONE AT ALL. You just need your space. So you pack up and hustle back up to your dorm room – you know the places, you know the times, you’ve got your system and it works for you – it’s sometimes just easier that way.
And you hustle. You count your blessings (of which there are too many to describe). You open your computer, you do some work. You go to the cafeteria and get dinner. You try make a routine for yourself as the chaos continues around you.
But it’s good. It’s all good. That is a decision – not an objective observation – but it’s really the only decision that counts (and, at this point, the only one that is still in your control to make). At the end of the day, we are the product of our decisions. Not the sum – the product. A good decision allows one to reap the fruits of a previous good decision – sometimes several previous good decisions and sometimes exponentially so – and so you turn around after almost 2 years in a foreign college in a foreign country and thinks “Man, we did this”. You think of all the struggles, and all the stresses, and all the lonely nights in these lonely hallways. You think of the people who helped you get here – parents that I couldn’t have hand-picked if I tried – teachers and mentors who understood me better than I understood myself – friends who would sell their kidney for me.
And so with all negatives there comes positives. With all darkness there comes light. The decision of where to place your time and energy, where to invest your effort and concentration – is the most important decision of all. Thankfully for you, it is the only decision that you, and only you, can make.