By Ellen Baer
With what thoughts or memories do you approach March 2023?
My reflections are somewhat clouded by the death of my mother in February 2022. Though the proximate cause of death wasn’t listed as COVID, she certainly died from a string of events set in motion by her contracting COVID. But there’s much more to remember…
Where were you in March of 2020. Is there a moment that stands out in your memory?
Prior to our return on March 11th, we were in Australia and New Zealand. Both were impacted by the lack of tourists from China and we were delighted to have no lines anywhere. I remember sitting at an outdoor bar at the Great Barrier Reef with the hotel owner who suggested everything be shut down worldwide for a couple of weeks to get a handle on this. We thought he was nuts. When we came back to NYC we worked for one day before everything shut down.
What about the early days of lockdown do you remember most?
Were you with or separated from family?
My most vivid memories of the early days is the fear – not just of getting sick but of getting sick and not being isolated from my family. Early on, my husband and I decided that if one of us got sick, we wouldn’t isolate from the other – something that now sounds foolish and selfish to me. I was desperately worried about my elderly mother who lived alone not far from us. Remember in those days we worried about the virus being spread by grocery bags. Everything was terrifying. And surreal. At one point, I didn’t set foot outside my apartment for 28 days. I wore flannel pajama pants all the time.
How did you adapt to lockdown? Was there any silver lining?
Adapt, we did. I threw myself into my work, and found that working remotely suited both me and my staff. We came up with work contingencies, threw them away, came up with new ones; we thought about someone other than ourselves. There was, quickly, a new normal. We found there were more hours in the day. When I could, I’d sneak in a nap.
My 7 year old grandson called me every day after “school” so we could play a game online together. My husband became the purchasing manager for my mother and for us. Soon we had all the toilet paper and paper towels anyone could want. Though we didn’t see her in person, my mother felt cared for and content.
Soon (in April 2020) my husband and I moved out to our beach house on Fire Island. I was terrified of getting sick from the water taxi driver who ferried all of our stuff to the island. But once we were there, everything changed. My husband worked in one room and I another. We developed a pod, though still no one went inside each others’ houses. We bought heat lamps for outside. As it got warmer and we relaxed a little, we began to treasure being together. My 4 grandchildren unable to do their summer activities, masked up and came and stayed with us in various combinations all summer.
I can honestly say, that except for the fear and the sadness – or maybe because of it – we felt extra close to our friends and family in our pod. We treasured the time we had together. Things slowed down. There was an implied poignancy, a sweetness.
Has the Covid era affected your work or professional aspirations?
I’ll never work in an office full time again. I’m towards the end of my career and that’s a choice of made that’s irreversible. I won’t give up the flexibility or the independence, or the occasional nap.
Do you have any family experiences to share?
See above. Also, like so many couples, being locked up together revealed the true essence of my marriage. I’m lucky that was a good thing. Avery good thing. I love having lunch with my husband in the middle of the week.
How have we changed as a society – what stands out for you?
I don’t think COVID changed us, per se, as much as it exposed and accelerated changes that were already simmering beneath the surface. Political differences and class differences became more vivid and disturbing. The five day work week probably died forever. Our health care system, with all its heroism and its inadequacies, was on display to everyone. Black Lives Matter and the attendant reactions to it, took center stage. We largely stopped going to movie theaters.
What are some of the changes you have made that stick to this day?
I still wear a mask on the subway. I did however, stop using my Peleton and rejoin the gym.
What will you remember most about these years?
The strangeness of it. The whole thing felt like an anomaly, though I don’t think we’ll ever be the same. It was like 9/11 in that way.
How do you feel about “going back to normal” – do you feel or sense a resistance to it?
I don’t think there’s any going back. I think we’re struggling to define a new normal. We’ll get there.
How you feel about NYC?
Never, ever bet against NYC.