We were leaving today. My husband and I from Metro Atlanta. My older daughter and her boyfriend from Los Angeles. My younger daughter from Boston. We were converging in New York in a meticulously-orchestrated plan.
We were gonna keep it simple. Only one planned thing outside in NYC (a beloved, small Christmas Eve sing-a-long under the arch in Washington Square Park where we intended to stand far away from others, followed by dinner at a fave restaurant where I had confirmed there was outdoor seating AND we had agreed to do takeout if we felt uncomfortable when we got there).
Christmas Day “out the Island” (as those of us from that area say), where we’d be grilling on the deck with a small group of vaxxed and boosted relatives (including the 88-year-old grandparents that my husband and daughters have not seen in a few years now).
A picnic with the elders in the public park in the small town not far from the Queens County border where I grew up (where they live, and where we were staying in a hotel), despite the forecast for cold. Maybe an evening around the hotel’s fire pit (on the former site of the original E.J. Korvette’s, mentioned in my book). Perhaps an indoor game or two of cards with the windows cracked, if we all felt comfortable.
We had already spent 130 unreimbursable, unbudgeted dollars on COVID rapid tests to take prior to gathering (which I had miraculously secured after riding my bike place after place to find), as recommended by the CDC and elsewhere. I had bought yo-yos for everyone, as this has undoubtedly been a yo-yo year. I thought that would be something we could do outside, that the elders would probably have tricks to teach us, that we could laugh a bit and have some new shared memories across generations.
We had mitigated all the risks we could. We are double vaxxed and boosted. We mask indoors when needed and social-distance habitually. But we decided at last night’s family meeting that the known and unknown risks beyond our control were still too much, as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is currently ripping through the New York Metropolitan area and the entire northeastern USA, expanding exponentially each day. It is still so new that information about it is changing daily. Our younger daughter had been reporting live from Boston, and it wasn’t good.
We wondered: If one of us got it, then what? If we needed to quarantine, where and how would that happen? How would we travel back to our homes? How could we truly responsibly gather with elders after probable exposure due to all the forms of transportation we’d be using? You can see all the public travel touchpoints I’d be making in my TikTok from June, when there was no Omicron (it would be far more crowded now):
We talked in circles. We imagined numerous scenarios. We tried very hard to accept the “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” approach, and I thought of my June 2021 Citibike ride across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Ultimately, one of us made the decision and the rest quickly followed, relief spreading through us like a wave of the ocean at Jones Beach.
I realized afterwards that it’s not unlike riding a bike in places that are dangerous-by-design (like where I live, where I asked for pop-up protection the first week of COVID in 2020, and then again, and again — see Third Time’s a Charm?). How we take steps to minimize known and unknown dangers, but ultimately must make personal decisions about how much risk we are each willing to assume. How we are put in impossible positions solving life-threatening equations with no good answers.
And that’s that. I hold my beloved childhood home of the Metropolitan New York City area, and my loved ones who reside there, close to my heart and in my prayers this Christmas. I feel the gap in miles from my family members acutely, and yet consider us closer than ever for so many shared reasons during this pandemic. I see the societal gaps in even being able to access things like rapid tests. Medical care. A safe place to quarantine.
And I know this fresh hell is coming for us everywhere, and now is the time to strengthen our individual and collective resiliency. If you can improve your mental and physical wellness just a little bit, that may be a proactive place to start.
I have free resources for you. Join me. If not on bikes (or rollerskates, which I started doing six months ago — follow on TikTok!), just find something you like that makes you feel a little better when the dire news doesn’t. (Fun fact: My dad still bowls, and my stepmom just recently stopped. That doesn’t just happen. It requires an ongoing commitment to physical activity. See Octogenarians Bowling. If you wait for the built environment to support healthy living, you will lose precious time to make a potentially-measurable difference in you and your loved ones’ lives.)
The photo at the top of this post is the corner three houses away from the house where I grew up. Will I ever turn that corner again? Will we ever turn the corner on COVID? I don’t know, and so all I can do, as usual, is trust the journey.
So now, I need to plan a Zoom sing-long and start practicing my yo-yo tricks. I won’t be in New York in person, but I am, indeed, still in a New York state of mind.
UPDATE 12/23/21: See Plans Shuffled? Join Me ShuffleDancing!