Seven months had never felt longer in Anne’s life. Since the pandemic said its hello to the city in the boldest possible way, just like many other families, hers had been taking refuge in their own apartment. With her husband working from home and the kids floating with virtual schools, the flow of being adjusted itself in a new dimension. Groceries delivered in the lobby twice a week. Lunch and dinner together every day. Board games and Little House once every few nights. Zoom calls, emails, and content creation remained the constant in her world. Being her own CEO allowed Anne to be pre-trained with the new normal before social distancing, washing your hands singing “Happy Birthday” song and “Staying Home Is Good for Your Health” slogan were invented in the human history.
The news with threatening numbers of cases flooded all media channels and spilled over the air everyone breathed in. Her neighbor didn’t even open the window for the fear that the virus could launch an attack through any open area. Yet, life felt good to Anne. Before, she would take the train to Brooklyn for an hour to have a lunch date with her husband once a month, and now, a mid-day connection over clean and homey food was well woven into their daily fabric. They talked more with each other and to her wish, she felt more loved and loving. Before, she would rush in the morning to send her daughter to school, and run most of the times to pick up her son at around 3 o’clock and get out of the house again before 6pm to collect her daughter, and now, drop-off and pick-up time all of a sudden faded into the background of her new life. She felt she had found an escape from the hamster wheel right under her roof. Before, she would venture into cake baking for her sweet tooth at the cost of losing the time for her reading, and now, she had a few partner chefs who were motivated enough by the vision of the final product stuck on the fridge happily lend a hand. She felt doing more while doing less could well go together. Sometimes, Anne felt strange that while many others were panic and disappointed and mad and sad and experienced a wide range of negative emotions, she was grateful for how life had unfolded during this time. Love, connection and meaning sprang from cracked hard soil.
There were many before’s and now’s on her list which could run from her apartment to the Statue of Liberty from her balcony. Something was unsettled though. A soul of rhythm and contentment and a soul of spontaneity and adventures both reside in her petit body and 3XL spirit. They constantly worked on the balancing act to make her feel at ease, and a few days ago, after a long discussion, they decided that seven months was long enough for spontaneity to move to the front seat, to be hatched and reborn into the world. At this news, Anne’s spirit got elevated and chimed in, “Let’s soak all that we have been missing!”
And today, on the very rare autumn day when the rain was kindred enough to hold its downpour and when the sun was kind enough to give away its warmth and brightness to the earth, Anne waltzed her way onto the yellow ferry right at the end of the street where she lived to meet with her beloved friend: the City.
“Great to see you again!” she greeted the ticket woman, her blond hair growing longer and her rosy cheeks hiding under a blue mask the shade of her uniform T-shirt. Just a like a newborn baby, Anne’s senses were awakened with the view of all the skyscrapers lining along the Hudson River bathing in the morning glory, the sound of the water bubbling under the boat, and the sweetness of the fresh air slithering into her now already shoulder length hair.
As if it had known it would have a special visitor coming over, the city welcomed Anne with a performance of folk styled children’s music by a band of two guitarists and singers on the lawn across Battery Park playground. Her feet, without any order from her brain, got moving to the uplifting lyrics as if she were just another baby joining a dozen of babies and toddlers and their Asian and Latino nannies. A smile of contentment and happiness radiated from her whole being. After taking a short video to share with her daughter when being back home later, she let the wonders on this side of the river guide her walk, as her phone was short of battery anyway. The streets of New York were not as that busy as before, but life was bustling to her surprise. Birthday parties blossoming in the park. A boy whistling by the pond. Workers resting by the curve. Men and women, young and old, slow and fast, big and small, chirping in China Town. Couples and families chatting in City Hall. Office people dotting the streets.
“Who says it’s wave two?” She thought to herself when strolling down to a nearby subway station in Grand Street. It’d take her another two hours to get to Bryant Park on foot and as much as she enjoyed exploring the city without a phone and a map, she was desperate to see her beloved friend again while the sun was still hanging around.
The train was not that bad as what she had imagined from the stories she heard. No people lying on the bench. No loud music. No violence. The smell in the mezzanine was still there but she just loved it, even more than her lightly scented perfume. Everyone was well settled in their seats like well behaving students in a classroom. The whole car was quieter than usual and all it cared about was doing its duty of transporting the city’s commuters no matter what. Indeed, it was so quiet that Anne got lost in her thoughts till a young man signaled to her that the next stop would already be Bryant Park.
For a moment after getting of the train, Anne found herself a total stranger. Bryant Park was still here, proudly showing its lines of trees still wearing their summery green jackets, its benches and chairs waiting for some good companies, and its concrete neighbors standing tall amidst the hustle and bustle of traffic and the loud urban sound. Does the park feel itself a stranger to her? Anne wondered and there was only one way to find out: She got a table at Bryant Park Grill to hang out with the park for the whole afternoon.
“How many people do you have?” the host, a man in his 60s, with silvered hair and matching silvered spectacles asked Anne. “Just me and myself,” she said, giving him a big smile as if she wanted to add, “I am with my best company”. “Just give me five minutes and I will have a few tables cleared up.” Within a minute, as if the man could have read her mind, Anne had already sat at a table right next to the ivy-covered wooden pillar. She ordered steak with Cesar salad instructing the waiter to give her kale and baby spinach instead of lettuce and pulled out from her bag one of her favorite books the type of which she had left untouched on her shelf for almost a year. As she opened the worn “Anne’s House of Dreams” that she chanced upon in an old bookstore in Hoboken two years before and started reading a few pages, a little voice whispered to hear ears, “Hey, I think I know you,” and she responded “and I think I know you too!”
The sunlight was brighter than ever. The breeze couldn’t be crisper. The symphony of life down the streets and on the lawn was in its most grandeur. The salad and the sauce on her plate made real good friends. As autumn sank into her every cell, it reminded Anne of the name of the street she bumped into while being on her foot earlier: Avenue of the Strongest. And right below it was the sign of Worth St, which made the thoughts hidden in a corner of her mind got up and said, “When you know your worth, you are the strongest and the avenue of life can’t be more beautiful.”
“Would you agree?” Anne asked the little voice. “Well, before I answer, let me ask you a question,” the voice said. “Do you know your worth?”
Anne pondered. She had spent over thirty years to prove her worth to her father, to her teachers, to her friends, to her extended family, to her bosses and to the invisible forces called companies. The words of her gynae echoed in her mind, “You don’t have to prove anyone,” when she told him she wouldn’t need pain killer to show that she was not a coward and that she was brave enough to endure any pain. Yet she didn’t comprehend his advice or she tried not to. Her life till then was the sum of constant striving and proving. Only when she was hit with a personal pandemic of inhumane work expectations and mental bullying a year later, it dawned on her that she didn’t have to prove her worth to anyone. With a new career in a new land called the land of freedom in the past three years, she realized more clearly than ever that the only person who should and must know her worth was herself.
“Yes, I do,” Anne responded to the little voice with a radiant smile dressed in her favorite bright red Channel lipstick glowing under the late afternoon sunlight. “And that’s good enough,” she thought to herself.
Did this pandemic help one to see her worth for the very first time in her life? Or would they wait for another pandemic if there would be one at all? Anne wondered as she watched the men in well-ironed suits and women in elegant outfit at the tables around her, and all of the people of different skin colors sitting over the benches and tapping their feet on the streets. If one does then seven months was actually not that long and the pandemic was indeed worth the worth.
Waving goodbye to Bryant Park, she walked across the street for the last-minute shopping of some dark chocolate to bring home and share with her beloved family, with Avenue of the Strongest keeping playing its sound track in her happy mind.