April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
–I. Burial of the Dead, The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot (1922)
A hundred years ago, there was another pandemic that unleashed havoc across the world. Millions were lost and maps, geographic and psychological, were redrawn. Facing a new pandemic in 2020, we try to make sense of our changed lives, of our hollow ambitions, of our former aspirations, and for too many people, of empty wallets and stomachs.
In New York, the hospitalizations and deaths rose and rose in the first two weeks of April, even as hospital workers and EMTs wedged their shoulders against the juggernaut and pushed back. The city lost over 50 staff from the still-operating transportation system.
While Great Leader gave increasingly bizarre press conferences, state and local administration fought for equipment, and every organization that is trying to distribute food and money to those left out in the cold strained each sinew to help. Restaurants shut down, only to open to feed front-line staff as commissary kitchens, designers and factories churned out masks and gowns, and medical teams and life-saving tech from across the world arrived in New York to help us hold the line.
And people lost jobs. Many, many people. Some were fired, some were furloughed. Some were told kindly, others in abrupt 3-minute calls. Lines for food stretched around the block in many distribution locations, including in the hardest hit neighborhood, Corona, a grim irony.
Our morgues filled up and our medical examiner’s office worked around the clock as bodies arrived in refrigerated trucks and vans from across the boroughs. Our funeral home workers tried desperately to provide dignity to our fellow citizens though the basements of their establishments could no longer accommodate more of them. And the city hired workers to dig trenches to bury our dead on Hart’s Island.
But we raised funds, we delivered groceries, we protected children, we made our feelings known.
We fought, we fought, we fought.