Memories From the Balcony – Come to Think of It . . .

Let’s not pretend anymore. Life has changed. The world has changed.
The way we live and the way we interact with each other is different now.
We’ve all gone remote, at least to some degree.
Almost everything has a hands-free option now.
There’s such a thing as “no touch” delivery which, to me, I think this is an interesting play on words.
Everything has changed since the shutdown which, if I’m correct, I believe the other day was the anniversary of when the world shutdown. It was March 15, 2020. This is the day we were told to stay home.
We were told to stay indoors because of a virus that was spreading around the world.

Of course, there were people who doubted the truth of the virus. Of course, there were the conspiracy theories. There was somehow a political division which, in fairness, medicine has nothing to do with politics nor should politics have anything to do with medical science. But in this case, it seems as if everyone made an exception to the rule.
Doctors should have nothing to do with being a republican or democrat. But especially during the pandemic and during the political disputes on this side of the globe; where you stood and your opinion on the virus determined not just a medical view, but this branded your social and political view as well. 

Not me though . . .
I didn’t see life this way. In fact, I didn’t see life at all, at least not really.
I was one of those people.

I was one of those so-called essentials. I never left the office. I never stopped my commute, which was easier at the time because no one else was on the road.
There was no one around, which was absolutely bizarre to me.
Think about this:
The streets of New York City, the place of all places and the heart of my heart as well as my place of business or otherwise billed and known as “The City That Never Sleeps” had become a place that was flat beyond belief.
I could stop, stand or walk in the dead center of 42nd Street and not see a car or worry about being pegged by a swerving taxi cab.
Even the sex workers were out of business for a while and keep in mind, this is a multi-billion dollar industry.

My City was empty –
The place was like a ghost town. The stores were closed. The spirit was still there because no matter what comes and no matter what happens, I have seen my City down before.
I have seen parts of Her reduced to rubble and no matter what, my City has always managed to rise again. 

Part of my experience during this time was walking through office suites in a commercial office building. I had to walk through the otherwise vacant tenant spaces which, too, they looked eerie and emptied.
They looked to be frozen in a time warp. As if the catastrophe took them away; never to return, and the remnants of their life, their things like the pairs of high-heels left beneath the desk of an office worker or a jacket hung on the hook of a door in the corner office of a CFO was only a tale of the devastation that took place.
I have to say this too. The St. Patrick’s Day decorations were up and the offices were left in their exact same condition for more than a year – things were left in their exact location, haunting us like a tale of what’s transpired, which was sad and further separating us from each other.

At the time, I was supporting new friends as they moved through new challenges. I managed to make a few introductions with some nurses who explained what they saw.
We held a weekly PTSD meeting to keep each other grounded. 

Mostly, I listened.
Mostly, I listened and thought to myself, “Good God!”
I say this because their stories were horrifying.
Mostly, I listened to a small group of people who were living their nightmare of who to save first, who’s code to answer – who do you try to help when people are dying all around you.
“I have audio hallucinations.”
I remember hearing one person tell me this.
“I can hear the sounds of the emergency room.”
“I can’t seem to get away from this,” she said.

No one knew what to expect. No one knew what this virus was or is or whether we should listen to the news or disagree.
But the news . . .
I swear, the news was not a friend. There was nothing helpful. There was only more of the same.
There was more doom and gloom. 

There were reports on division. There were fights and brutal murders all televised for the world to see.
Why not? Keep people afraid. Keep people in a state of crisis.
Keep people fighting or keep them weak and vulnerable.
This is what the news did for us.
They showed the tragedy and constantly repeated the loops of devastation to instill fear and discomfort.
And yes, this was definitely uncomfortable.

We saw this worldwide though.
And not just here in the states.
This was everywhere.
There is a way to explain Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This is a moral injury.
I am not the first person to say this nor am I claiming to take this as my own genius.
I’m not trying to claim this or put this idea on my sleeve as if to say “look at me!”
However, this is a moral injury.
This is what happens when we see things that go against our moral grain. This is what happens when we witness traumatic episodes; but worse, this is what happens when we see them day after day, again and again. It’s not like you can heal because one thing happened and then it was two. Then it was three. More and more the catastrophes multiplied and the death factors grew at an overnight pace.

You are not supposed to witness murder.
You’re not supposed to see hate, out loud and alive, or right in front of you.
You’re not supposed to witness the things we witnessed during the shutdown.
This goes against everything we are taught – well, at least for most of us.

This goes against the golden rules of simple things like holding hands when you walk across the street or sharing, playing fairly, saying “excuse me” or being basically kind, which may be a rare event nowadays. I grant you this, but still – at least to some degree, we are all taught to stick together, find a buddy, find your “pack” and live, love, laugh and learn together.

But no, not during the shutdown.
Not at all.
All we saw were separations. All we experienced was distance and the shattered sensation of hearts breaking across the world.

There was a young man named Kareem.
Kareem was a special young man.
I used to see him every day. He had the biggest heart known to our kind. He was special in every sense of the word; but more, Kareem was my friend.
He might have had some challenges. He might not have fit the corporate model and perhaps his business skills were somewhat muted because of certain inabilities or perhaps we can call this a chromosomal challenge or abnormality – but this did not stop my friend Kareem.
Besides, the one ability Kareem had above all was the ability to smile warmly and say hello to me.
He did this better than anyone else.

I made sure Kareem had breakfast every day. I made sure his lunch was taken care of.
I never told him this was me. I never allowed anyone to tell him why his food was free.
They told him this was because he won a prize.
I told everyone to let Kareem know that he won a prize for being “the coolest, most best lookin’ guy around!”
I made sure Kareem’s metro card was taken care of so he could go on the subway, get home and get back to work.
I made sure no one picked on Kareem also because whether he was one of the most loving, beautiful people in the world or if he was visibly noticeable because of certain challenges – Kareem was my friend and to be clear, I do not like bullies and nobody bullies one of my friends. 

I used to ask him –
Are you staying out of trouble?
He would smile and
Kareem would ask me back,
Are you staying out of trouble?
Nope, but I’m not getting caught, is what I’d tell him. 

I had to walk through the office where Kareem sat in the mailroom.
And there he was. His picture.
Kareem was gone.
He passed away in his sleep during the pandemic.
My friend . . .

I wish I could redo things from back then. Come to think of it, I remember the beginning of all this.
I was on a plane the day before the shutdown. I was flying home in first class after taking a class that was supposed to be a week long – but it wasn’t. No, the class was cut short due to the circumstances, which were beyond our control. 

I can remember the eeriness in the airport. No one knew what to do. This was before the great mask debates.
Wear a mask? Don’t wear one.
Either way, stay away and keep a safe distance.
By the way, there’s one thing which I found most alarming about the pandemic.
This was the reminder to wash your hands.
Really? Do we need to remind people of this?
I say this because I’ve been washing my hands since before it was cool. Oh, and as for social distancing, I’m a New Yorker, so I’ve been practicing social distancing since before this was cool too. 

I saw so many things yet what I saw most was the emptiness and the vacant chairs where life used to be. The hardest was the absence of life – or should I say your life which is more to the point.
The hardest was the distance between me and the world that I missed so much.

I go back to that idea of moral injury.
I go back to the news which reported nothing but the death of people or the fact that no one knew what to do. I go back to the separation and the degradation of our society.
Then there were riots.
There were rioters moving through my City. There were racial tensions. Then there were murders; literally there murders that were racially intensified and being repeated on the news to keep us separated and petrified.

I go back to the people who called me to say “Benny, I never had the chance to say goodbye because the hospital wouldn’t let me in.”
I go back to the nurses who told me, “They don’t care what happens to me.”
I go back to the nurse who told me “It was like having to play God because you had to decide who to help – and either way, most likely, neither of the two survived.”

I go back to the life that we had before and then all of a sudden; everything shutdown.
All the stores were closed. There were restrictions on how much toilet paper you could buy. There were shortages. There was a spike in overdoses and a rise in suicides, spousal abuse, depression and anxiety, and there was certainly a rise in the tension between us.
By the way, there was also a spike in pregnancy which, if we think about it, made sense because hey, they said stay home with your loved ones. Well? We might not have listened to all the suggestions we heard during the shutdown – but, it looks like a lot of people listened to this one.
That’s for sure.

I don’t know what was right or wrong. I don’t listen to politicians when it comes to science. No, not at all. I leave that to scientists. I don’t listen to doctors when it comes to construction or auto mechanics when it comes to legal issues.
No, I prefer to keep my sources topically accurate; therefore, it is my preference to always seek the appropriate levels of information and care.

But it was hard.
The shutdown, I mean.
It was also hard to decipher between information and misinformation
And I mean, this was really hard.

At best, from what I recall, the shutdown was only supposed to last two weeks.
Here we are, three years later – the ripples have not gone away.
Neither have our memories of what took place during the shutdown.
I suppose if I could – I’d push a button and just like that – all of this would go away.

Of course
I wish I could have done things differently. But the past is the past and neither of us live there anymore.
For now though, since I am aware that time is finite and since I am aware that we have some things to make up for; I know that there was a lot of separation over the last three years – but the separation can end now. 
It has to.

We can let the past go.
We can move forward and heal (if we want to).
My old self will only be my old self if I allow that part of me to stay behind me.
My new self can only be my new self if I allow myself the ability to move forward.

PTSD though, it’s a moral injury –
That’s for sure.
The shutdown took our loved ones from us.
We saw murder on television.
We lost our closeness for a while.

We saw war-like times in a war against an unseeable virus.
We saw confusion. We saw violence.
We saw mistrust and if we watched the news, we saw more deaths than any other apocalyptic event in our recent history.
Know what else we saw?

We saw a worldwide episode of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as it swept around the globe to infect us all. 
But it’s not over yet. Or is it?
Perhaps this is a choice –

No one wants to go back to the office.
People are still afraid.
The City is not what She used to be either.
But like I said – no one can keep my City down.
Or us, for that matter  –

unless we let them.

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