Community//

Unlearning Fear

Learning to Love New York City and Its People Again

New York Appellate Division, First Department off Madison Square Park
New York Appellate Division, First Department off Madison Square Park

Amy Cooper got me out of my apartment, finally. I’d been hunkered down, first with a broken knee, the result of a fall on February 24th that kept me off subways and buses (and probably away from Covid-19), and then by the pause declared by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

I’ve missed this city I love. 

When the weather got nicer and my knee got stronger, I began to take my frail husband out for short walks in our Midtown Manhattan neighborhood, now full of homeless encampments under the scaffolding left from abandoned construction projects. Having been inside for so long, these new neighbors are unfamiliar to me. Unlike the resident homeless whom I know and they know me, these younger more aggressive men are also more desperate for food, money, and dignity. Having been sheltered inside for so many weeks, there are days when I feel intimidated by them. 

Then Amy Cooper, a white woman, became enraged when an African American man, Christian Cooper, dared to challenge her right to disobey the dog leash rules in the Ramble in Central Park. She claimed falsely in a 911 call that he was assaulting her. 

Her privilege, acted out before Mr. Cooper’s iPhone video camera, revealed not only her underlying racial anxiety but her fear. I don’t like fear, especially inside me. I agree with the Dalai Lama that fear and distrust are “…[t]he real destroyer of inner peace. Fear develops frustration, frustration develops anger, anger develops violence.”

I admit I have been afraid of getting sick, of my ill husband getting sicker, for our daughter’s future, of our retirement savings disappearing, and of democracy here devolving into fascism. 

That’s a lot of fear. 

As I said, I don’t like fear. I needed action and the way Amy Cooper’s fear played out motivated me to get rid of mine before I became someone I didn’t want to be. I called on a young woman friend, a former work colleague who lives a few blocks away. She has been working from home and telling me about her 10-mile walks along the rivers, her wonder at the paused city. I asked her if she would take me out with her on a walk, masked and responsibly distant. I demanded I get through my inhibitions after being cooped up for 13 weeks, so that I could reacquaint myself with New York City, so that I could love it again, despite the novel corona virus and all it has wrought and revealed.  

We walked down a nearly abandoned Park Avenue to the Union Square farmers market, usually full of vendors and shoppers on a sunny Friday morning. Only half the vendors were there with open spaces emphasizing the absence of others. There were so few shoppers that we could just walk in, no lines. I bought asparagus, ramps, and little gem lettuces from grateful merchants. She bought organic eggs and smoked duck. As we later walked around Gramercy Park and Madison Square Park, we talked about how to engage in self care: cooking, exercise, meditation, silencing the critical voices inside our heads, connections with friends and family. My friend who doesn’t even have a houseplant is learning. She feels like her life is slipping by, even as she learns; I felt like a wise old woman friend.

There were times when she and I didn’t stay six feet apart although we kept on our masks. There were times I wanted to fold her into my arms and tell her that her life would continue, that she would come through this pandemic a stronger and more confident woman. I didn’t need to, because as she spoke about how she is dealing with this solitude, she was full of compassion for her mother and father, for herself. Her urgency to get on with her life is appropriate. She just needed to hear herself express all of these feelings. My young friend is not afraid, she’s impatient.

And I lost my inhibitions about being out. Yes, New York City without its hustle is lonely and barren, its inequality and racism exposed and ugly. But hiding from it, or running away from the reality of what’s wrong with our country, with our city won’t make it better. That is privilege, to avoid seeing and doing something about it. So my friend and my walk reestablished me once again as a New Yorker, loving this city, but even more, loving the people, all of the people, who live here now. 

It’s time to be an ally and to get to work.  

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