It seems we turned a corner in our coronavirus crucible. Whereas until now the word we’ve been living with is “lockdown,” now the word that’s buzzing is re-opening. In New York, it’s in its most nascent form, as of May 15.
I am grateful we’ve reached this point. Just a month-and-a-half ago, our world was frozen in disbelief as the daily death toll reached 800; the terror of the virus continuing to spin out of control was very real.
We must continue to be vigilant, especially protecting our vulnerable. Yet it seems the time has come to make way for young, healthy people, with the potential for complete recovery from the coronavirus, to resume life at least tentatively and to thrive again.
This coronavirus is like a moving target. Previously, saving lives meant entering the mode of a lockdown; now, saving lives will mean turning toward reopening. Reopening a living breathing economy that can generate life.
Unless and until there is a vaccine, the coronavirus is a long term problem. Now that the curve has been flattened, we’ll need to re-enter life with great caution. Yet, not to risk any form of re-entry can also bring great harm.
I’m old enough to say I have seen the fragility and sensitivity of transitions and re-entry points.
They are not always necessarily limited to border crossings or any other physical point of demarcation. Rebbe Nachman said: “Kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar me’od, ve-ha’ikar lo lefached klal.” All of life is likened to the process of bridge crossings, but the essence of these journeys, Rebbe Nachman teaches, is not to submit to impulse or, alternatively, paralysis or fear.
There are bridges in life, there are crossings, which are some of the most fragile and fraught spaces to traverse.
After the pride of the Columbia and the affection we grew to have for Ilan Ramon, we all waited breathlessly for its return to earth. Everything had gone safely. The launch. The journey in space. But the fragile physics of reentry through the atmosphere shattered it all.
To navigate a challenging crossing or reentry space can be so emotionally fraught.
It can be a prisoner reentering civilian life; a mourner emerging from shiva to the bustle of life; a painful breakup or divorce, a reentry into a solo identity and all the attendant social challenges. It can be recovering from illness.
I remember once being in the waiting room of a hospital, the terrifying intensity and anxiety of those moments and and hours, with fear of the worst lurking, despite the valiant effort to pray and remain hopeful. Finally, after three-and-a-half hours, the surgeon emerged with the good news that the surgery was, in fact, successful. The flood of relief was palpable.
That night, as I was dozing off between fits of hospital, all-nighter kind of sleep, I was suddenly awakened around 3 a.m by shrill sounds. Nurses suddenly appeared with great alacrity, concern in their eyes as they looked at dropping numbers on the machine. The next thing, I hear “cardiac” and “cardiac unit.” They had to rush this person to the cardiac unit ASAP.
I remember the thought that entered my mind: “So, the dangerous surgery went fine, but now the person can, G-d forbid, be taken because of a cardiac issue that did not exist before?
In those moments, in my bones, I felt the risk of recovery, the danger of re-entry.
Sometimes it’s the ascent and sometimes it’s the descent is the most crucial points of a journey. And all too often it’s the foot in front of another foot, step by step, traversing a shaky bridge, be it material or figurative, that is that sensitive re-entry, carrying us from one point to another.
That’s where we’re at here in New York.
This week, I hope to take a walk, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, as an expression of my cautious optimism.
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