June 3, 2022
Before the pandemic, New York City and sleep was an oxymoron. While there were individual citizens who defied Gotham’s renown reputation for never slumbering, the entire town never did business with the Sandman.
However, COVID-19 changed that longstanding truth at the start of 2020. As did the rest of the world, New York City came to an almost audible halt. Restaurants, theaters, schools, and even churches shut their doors and turned off their lights. Whereas the city’s relentless thrum had marked its daily life, there was now an eerie and disquieting quiet that reigned in both the grand and modest thoroughfares. Only the occasional vehicle rolling through an empty street broke the silence; pedestrians were scant, and even the usual rumble of trains seemed to have been stifled. This was what death sounded like.
My usually bustling neighborhood in Queens folded in on itself. Shops and other businesses that did not close outright shortened their hours of operation and limited how many customers could enter at any given time, resulting in long lines that snaked around buildings’ exteriors. Foodstuffs and everyday items, such as paper products, were in short supply, adding to the discomfort. Some said these restrictions and shortages were “signs of the Apocalypse.” The beautiful variety of my neighborhood’s multiethnic faces was partially covered by boring paper masks, which only left visible their eyes that registered the sorrow and fear at our bewildering new existence.
To my mind, however, rather than entering into Saint John the Divine’s extraordinary visions, we were entering into a universal and extended Lent in which we would have to give up old ways of being in the world and to adopt new ones. We had to go inward and uncover what had been concealed, such as inequities and other long-hidden social problems that were painfully brought to light. Regardless of creed, we were all observing this unusual and uncomfortable Lent.
The horseman of death’s scythe has, tragically, cut down thousands, and we have engaged in a range of difficult personal and interpersonal battles we could never have imagined. Yet, with God’s grace, we have prevailed, as we emerge with faltering and hopeful steps from this latter-day plague. Although faint, the resurrection light of Easter grows ever brighter, and we are reminded that the tomb was never meant to be our final resting place.