The coronavirus pandemic taught me it’s the little things that count | Think Piece

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Quarantine life in New York illuminates our need to work towards a recovery in solidarity and selflessness.

At the beginning of New York’s quarantine, I was mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. I knew it wasn’t exactly the best thing to do with my spare time. All everyone was talking about was coronavirus. If and when this all ends, I don’t want to hear that word uttered in another sentence ever again.   

As I was scrolling through, I came across a video posted by The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. The caption read, “When you’re inspired by Italy but live in New York.” I could already tell where this was going, but I clicked on the video anyway.  

For those who don’t know, Italians have been coping with their nationwide quarantine by stepping out onto their balconies daily and singing. So, feeling inspired by Italians, Trevor Noah decided to post a video of himself stepping out onto his own balcony and doing the same. As he starts to belt out Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” someone yells, “Shut the F*** up!”. 

I laughed. I laughed pretty hard for the first time in a long time. Now that I think about it, it wasn’t the funniest thing in the whole world. I don’t know if part of it had to do with the fact that as an absentee New Yorker for six months, I had missed New Yorkers’ chaotic energy, but I laughed.  Afterwards, I sent it to my brother and to my friends, who I thought could use a little something funny too.

New Yorker walking safely through Manhattan. Photo credit Cool Burns.

At the time, I found it funny, but afterwards, I asked myself if a gesture like that was possible in New York City. If we had to self-quarantine for an indefinite period of time, would we all come together as a community, at a specific time of the day, out onto our balconies or windows and just sing together? 

I can’t say I know the answer. I believe that New York City is always full of surprises. Maybe Trevor Noah will be wrong. Maybe New Yorkers will come out onto their balconies or through their windows and sing together. It’s surely a heartwarming gesture. However, in a historic moment like this I also believe that we can and should sing a different tune, a tune of solidarity and selflessness through our actions.

Taking a personal inventory

In a crisis, our first instinct might be to put ourselves and our families first. We’ll run to the grocery stores to stock up on endless amounts of toilet paper and food and cleaning supplies, but will forget that there are others out there who need these things just as much as we do. There might be an elderly couple who can’t go out as often to get their groceries and are looking to stock up on supplies for a long period of time but can’t find what they’re looking for. Other families might not be able to afford to buy things in bulk all at once.

If we don’t step out onto our balconies and sing with one another, the least we can do is be considerate of other people. We shouldn’t wipe out the shelves at grocery stores with stuff we don’t need. We need to be mindful that there are other families that need these things just as much as we do. 

New Yorkers participating in the daily celebration for essential workers. The cheer became a way to encourage each other during the toughest part of the city’s quarantine. Photo credit by Nadir.

Moreover, I know that all we’re being told to do these days is make sure we are socially distancing ourselves from one another, but that can be mentally strenuous on a lot of us. That’s why it’s just as important to express social (distancing) solidarity. If we can’t be in the same physical spaces as friends, family, significant others, then the least we can do is make sure we check up on one another. We don’t have to step out onto our balconies and sing together to make sure we don’t go crazy in these uncertain times. It can make a world of a difference to pick up the phone and just text or call a friend or relative to make sure they’re okay. However, it’s also important to remember to take care of ourselves too, so if we’re having a tough time processing this, it’s okay to take a step back and give ourselves the necessary space to do so.

Over the course of my time in Italy, I came to realize that Italian culture is very centered around family and community. It felt very familiar because of my own cultural background. Egyptian culture is very centered around family and community.   

I have not left home since I came back to New York earlier this month. I self-quarantined when I first got back, but by the time I had the green light to leave home, the city was starting to partially shut down as the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases rippled across the city. I would have gone crazy spending all this time at home alone if it had not been with the company of my family.

I hope that it doesn’t come down to the reality of New Yorkers having to buckle down at home indefinitely, but it sure seems like we’re heading in that direction and if it means it’ll lower the curve of the outbreak, then I’m ready to buckle down, complete my online courses and watch the occasional Netflix with friends and family. 

Sara Elroubi

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