With nowhere to go,Covid has revived this simple pleasure and kept a lot of people happy and sane.
I’m suddenly fourteen again.
In order to escape the confines of my big, chaotic family, I sneak the keys to the car and sidle out the door before anyone notices.
With a heavy yank, the driver’s side door shuts withan Omph sigh of relief, and the outside world disappears. Seated in my tiny capsule ready for orbit, I twist the radio dial to my favorite station and happily drift away. This is my great escape.
The last four months of this new age Covid living have forced most of us to return to a time of simpler things, be it baking bread, playing board games, reviving family dinners, or taking walks. At the same time, the total lack of privacy, the bouncing back and forth between just a few rooms, living with a roommate(s), partner, children 24/7 is just plain contrary to the laws of nature. A lot of short fuses have been lit, eggshells crushed, and barbs volleyed.
In November I moved to New York City, found a sublease with a roommate, but left my car parked an hour away thinking I would never really need it. Although she and I get along and are both introverts, after four months of working from home and being imprisoned together, I started hating her. Everything she did, and didn’t do, annoyed me. And she never went out!
I know the feeling was mutual. This and the underlying anxiety of getting sick was quietly beating us both up. I wondered what were people doing to combat built up hostility over seemingly nothing?
And then it hit me.
They escape to their cars.
I suddenly started noticing one, or sometimes two, people just sitting in parked cars listening to music, especially at night. This seemingly innocuous practice would come up in conversations more and more about ways to stay sane.
Parent friends in therapy confided the car was the perfect place to have a session. He/she could have a good cry or howl at the moon without their prying-minds-want-to-know children listening.
Another friend, living with her adult, twenty-something, daughter, revealed she is ordered out of the apartment on a regular basis to allow her daughter some much wanted alone time. This mom is happy to comply and retreats to her car where she can listen to the oldies, NPR, or talk radio for a couple of hours.
I’ve learned second hand that Date nights of long ago have found a revival in the family wagon, if even for a mere 30 minutes.
And remember the joys of parking? Imagine taking your sweetheart to a primo spot on the empty streets of Times Square.
So after months of living in the now sleepy city that never sleeps, I pine for my 2005 Subaru and the simple pleasures it will afford me. I leave for a vacation in Maine soon and relish the thought of sitting behind the wheel feeling free once again.
The immediate future isn’t looking all that bright, but I’ll find the silver lining. This time when returning, I’ll keep my car parked out front. When the need arises, like it often did so many years ago, I’ll have my own private getaway—
We need to develop the Buddhist practice of metta or lovingkindness…and the benefits are worth it.
When I read the phrase To reteach a thing its loveliness…just let that sink in for a minute… it felt like a lifeline, like a comforting beacon of light after being lost on an uncharted sea of anxiety, fear, and growing anger.
Reading further in Sharon Salzberg’s book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, I learned this is the nature of metta, which can be translated from Pali, the ancient language of Buddhist scriptures, as unconditional love or lovingkindness.
It is the first of the brahma-viharas, heavenly abodes, and supports the others that include compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The metta meditation is an opening of the heart and a wish for not only our happiness, but also for all beings. The Buddha first taught the metta meditation as an antidote to fear when it arises and feels overwhelming.
Could there be a better time to practice this?
Hitting month three of quarantine here in NYC, along with the ensuing explosion of the BLM movement, I needed a soothing balm to quell the guilt and an almost self loathing, for not having contributed more to society in some meaningful way, for being an elder and higher risk burden.
The pandemic has become more and more about politics and the economy uniting us in different camps of hatred: the haves vs. have nots, liberal vs. conservative, red vs. blue, entitled vs. essential, black vs. white. Social media, originally created to feed our very human need to connect, has, instead, amplified our separateness, and it has spilled on to the streets.
I’ve read about regular people lashing out verbally at others for not wearing a mask or social distancing. Plenty of times I’ve passed pedestrians on the street and police at protests and silently judged them for being arrogant and selfish for the same thing. Hating this reaction, I found myself stuffing my feelings to lessen the pain. This is where we get in trouble as Salzberg aptly explains:
Sometimes as individuals, or as members of a group, we may sacrifice the truth in order to secure our identity, or preserve a sense of belonging. Any thing that threatens this gives rise to fear and anxiety, so we deny, we cut off our feelings. The end result of this pattern is dehumanization. We become split from our own lives and feel great distance from other living beings as well.
When I read the words, To Reteach a Thing Its Loveliness, I was blown away by the beauty of the message and recognized instantly this was something I could do, as just one small person, to be an agent of change.
The practice of metta begins with loving/befriending ourselves, no small feat. I know. I’ve been a heavy weight titlist in the “beating myself up”ring for decades. But we have to begin with loving ourselves…despite our weaknesses and failings…before we can mirror it back to others. This mirroring brings it full circle.
The practice of metta begins with short meditations that begin with oneself, and then work outwardly to a loved one, someone neutral, and, the most difficult, an enemy. The meditation focuses on silent repetitions of phrases such as “May you have ease of well-being,” May you be free from danger,” “May you be healthy and strong.” Yes, it gets more difficult as you move outward. It is especially hard to wish happiness to an enemy, but this is the work of unconditional love, the driving force of healing. Even if you aren’t feeling the love, don’t give up. You are planting a seed, setting an intention, and that is enough.
As if the nature of metta isn’t just beautiful in and of itself, the Buddha outlined eleven specific benefits. Your practice will reap the following rewards:
You will sleep easily.
You will wake easily.
You will have pleasant dreams.
People will love you.
Celestial beings and animals will love you.
Celestial beings will protect you.
External dangers ( fire, poison, weapons) will not harm you.
Your face will be radiant.
Your mind will be serene.
You will die with a clear mind.
You will be reborn in happy realms.
If you’ve always wanted to start a meditation practice but felt it might be too hard, this is a great place to start. A few minutes a day is all you need to begin. I’ve recently added metta meditation to my regular meditation practice, and I’m feeling more hopeful and optimistic.
On daily walks now there are more frequent, tiny moments of connection with total strangers I pass on the street or on a front stoop. It might be a verbal hello or a silent, mutual nod of the head that says I acknowledge you. Smiling eyes behind the mask. It’s a small moment of connection, a much needed dopamine hit of goodness. Lovingkindness is a powerful energy to radiate.
And I’m sleeping better.
So, if we should ever pass each other on street, know I am silently wishing, “May you be safe from harm,” “ May you be healthy and strong,” “May you be truly happy.”
Although my view of the world has literally narrowed, it is no less entertaining,yet, intimately, human.
And it seems that when we think no one is looking, whether under the cover of darkness, or in plain light of day, someone is.
In mid March, after the state of emergency was declared, much like Prospero and his guests in The Mask of the Red Death, people began fleeing the city to country homes. One early evening, I looked out my window to see a middle aged man (not from this Bed Stuy neighborhood) across the street furtively removing his NY plates from, first the front, then the back of his Audi SUV. He quickly stashed them on the floor of the back seat, got in, and drove away plateless, to … I can only assume… a suddenly sprouted pandemic entrepreneur who would attach a set of out of state plates so he could covertly blend in.
I was indignant. What a coward. Selfishly exposing a community with limited heath care facilities. But then I caught myself.
I Took a moment to be still, rather than running away with judgment and asked myself the question, would I do the same if there was a second home somewhere with lots of space and fresh air to enjoy? Ah.. probably, yes. But I’d like to think no.
A few weeks later, meat packing facilities are stricken with positive tests and must be shut down. Will hoarding of meat begin? I look out my window as a pickup truck pulls up, double parks, and a neighbor comes out to collect what looks like eight to ten large packages of assorted cuts of beef. It’s started already.
But then I remember the same guy who lives alone with his dog and who speaks lovingly and takes this pit bull mix out each morning and afternoon for a walk. Could this stash be a treat not only for him but also his companion, a reward for unconditional love in times of loneliness?
On Sunday morning, a homeless man sporting a huge, flapping coat and Nike flip flops shuffles by pushing his shopping cart overflowing with scavenged goods. He stops, carefully unpacks items from a plastic bag one by one, and selects an article I can’t quite see. He rolls it on in quick, short strokes to his mustache, rubbing it in, then his scruffy beard and neck and gives them a good rub too. It isn’t until he reaches under his coat and shirt and applies it to his under arms that I realize what it is.
I’ve worn the same clothes for a week and haven’t washed my hair in days. I’ve even skipped deodorant a few times in the process, yet I have the same warm, safe place to stay every night.
It’s Saturday night and a car pulls up and idles out front. A woman ambles to the side window, and an exchange is made. She quickly does an about face and returns inside. In these times of high anxiety, we can all use a little help from our friends, be it Johnny Walker or Crimea Blue. People gotta stay medicated in this plagued economy.
My drug of choice is chocolate, so I play the odds taking unnecessary trips to the local bodega.
Since the world has been put on pause, this virus has brought into focus our human frailties. Those frailties come from a place of fear. A fear of separateness.
Perhaps if we practice loving-kindness with ourselves and then mirror it back to others, we just might be a little more forgiving all the way around — get through this in one peaceful piece.
A City’s exorbitant cardboard trash got me thinking about our excessive consumption, and, in this Covid-19 reality, creating.
I’ve longed to live in NYC for years, and when it became a reality this October, it didn’t disappoint in showing me a rich banquet of stimuli that could satisfy the senses of any appetite. But an interesting side effect, a slight indigestion, grew as my awareness sharpened and revealed some of the underbelly amidst the dazzle.
Sure, I expected to see skittering rats on the subway tracks and a cockroach or two. What I didn’t expect were mountains of trash, especially cardboard, left curbside most days. This begged the question why do we have to have so much? All you have to do is look at the growing trend of self storage units that have become a blight on the landscape anywhere in the U.S. We have so much damn stuff, we need additional space to house more damn stuff. And then there’s the environmental impact.
Back in October an average of 1.5 million packages a day were delivered to NYC. In addition to the congestion, add to that the growing concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and deteriorating infrastructure.
For most of us, myself included, these growing concerns flicker to a weak flame for a moment in our consciousness but then quickly get tamped out by our desire for convenience and instant gratification so easily attained with the tap of a finger.
But this pandemic is an opportunity to reevaluate, reflect, to go deeper. By going deeper I mean calling on our higher nature to do the right thing instead of succumbing to our lower nature that always demands I want it now. Essential workers’ lives in this plague economy are on the line, and that includes people filling orders and delivering goods. We’ve got to be asking ourselves is this something I need or something I want? Is it an emergency? Then act accordingly.
Like millions of others, I’m trying to exercise restraint and do the right thing. At the same time I’m looking for ways to be productive, creative, and entertained with what I already have as we social distance and self quarantine.
As an artist, I’m continually looking for ways to be innovative while limiting my carbon footprint. Not able to find the right size canvas/wood block I wanted, and not wanting to place an order that required a delivery, I looked to recycled items.
In January, I joined the ranks of the bottle-pickers and began scavenging my Brooklyn neighborhood for large pieces of of unblemished cardboard (flat screen TV boxes are perfect). This resulted in a never-ending, free supply of discarded cardboard and the discovery of a medium that, when cut into, adds a 3-D effect to my paintings.
This past October, I answered a call to adventure and moved from Maine to NYC to experience the dizzying din of a city that never sleeps. Four months into it, all the enticements that drew me here have been shut down, and I’ve been put to bed without my supper. Along with the city’s other 8.5 million residents, I’ve been asked to stay home, avoid crowds, and practice self distancing.
I was, initially, peeved.
I am now working to suck it up, to surrender.
Up until a week ago, I’ve had a rather cavalier attitude about going out in the city. Having traveled by subway both ways with stops at Grand Central, I attended a Broadway show matinee, and the next day the blackout was announced. Now the only show in town is the real Theater of the Absurd we are living.
Shortly after, the mayor declared a state of emergency and banned large gatherings. But it wasn’t until I had a conversation with my 30 year-old son sitting on the stoop at his apartment that the seriousness of it hit me.
Not feeling well the night before, he and his girlfriend decided to self quarantine. After our initial no-touch greeting, he reassured me they were feeling much better. And then he looked directly into my eyes. Because there is no one whose opinion I value more, or whose gentle criticisms of me I intently listen to and take to heart, I knew what he was going to say was important: “Mom, you need to be more careful. I want you to be safe.”
Apparently, I’m not the only parent getting this kind advice. Later on Facebook, I read a post from a friend from Maine who asked if anyone else’s millennial son or daughter had sat them down and explained how serious the situation was. My friend’s daughter had contacted her from Brooklyn alerting her to what was potentially coming. I also heard from a sister in Maine whose son and daughter chided both of them about their plans to attend a play. Their father has suffered two heart attacks and currently has a stent in place.
Things are getting real.
We all need to be careful including young people who naturally feel invincible. There are those who avoid large public gatherings and work from home by day and avoid the customary night life, and others who throw caution to the wind and risk spreading this invisible infection and insist on going out. It was just a week ago that I walked home and looked across the street into the open door of a popular watering hole that was filled with young people. The business didn’t look to be running at half capacity allowing for safe distancing as suggested. Patrons didn’t seem to be taking the necessary cautions either.
That has since changed.
I can’t just blame this behavior on the young people who are a lower risk. I’m healthy, take no medications, and have no medical conditions. Until recently, I’ve displayed hubris taking more chances then I should even though people in my age group have been issued guidance by the federal government how to stay safe.
So I’ve decided to become more conscious and regularly monitor my attitude. I accept that this is my NYC experience, and I am grateful to be here near my son. I will take better care not only of myself but also my fellow man because we are all in this together.
When I was called to this adventure, I knew there were bound to be risks, uncertainties, and trials along the way. I had no idea the extent to which I’d be tested.
I will practice taking one day at a time. Because:
This was not what I had planned.
This is pretty absurd.
To quote Camus: “To embrace the absurd implies embracing all that the unreasonable world has to offer.”