After I wrote last week about being hopeful that schools will reopen in the fall, I heard from some friends who are unsure that it will be safe to do so. That, and some of the memes circulating on Facebook made me think a bit more about the gap between what we want to happen and what is really safe and realistic. It’s not fair to teachers to put them in a position that is unsafe, or that feels unsafe. And, even though wearing masks have been shown to significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19, we know that not everyone wears them correctly and consistently, to say nothing of those who refuse to wear them.
On the other hand, there are so many resources and supports that children receive through schools, in addition to their education, that they are missing right now. At some point, the detriment to children’s public health of keeping schools closed will outweigh the risks of opening them. I don’t know when/where the tipping point is in that balance, and I hope we don’t reach it with devastating results on either side.
So, just as last week, I want the schools to open, but upon further thought, I don’t know what the right decision will be. These are extremely difficult decisions to make, and there are many, many variables. I will say that, having been in various medical offices in recent weeks, it is fascinating to see environments that have embraced mask wearing and regular hand washing/sanitizing, and cleaning of commonly used surfaces.
At my daughter’s physical therapy appointment today, all the staff, from the front door to the therapy table, were masked and regularly cleaning shared surfaces and implements. All the clients were also correctly wearing masks. The facility is a newer, airy building with good air ventilation, which also reduces risks of infection.
I am sure that the physical therapy staff have always been accustomed to regularly wiping down tables and equipment, but other staff, such as the woman at the registration desk who sanitized my daughter’s insurance card, are probably newer to being this vigilant. Being around people who have adapted to these protocols made me feel comfortable, and gives me some hope about how we can resume activities in other areas of life.
The mild days of May and June are deceptive in that they give a person the illusion that the whole summer will be warm and sunny without being humid and oppressively hot. And, then, in the blink of an eye, the calendar turns to July, and we find ourselves sweaty and irritable, wondering when the heat will finally break.
After several days in a row with temperatures reaching into the 90s, I feel a bit wilted and shaken out of my annual delusion. As part of me is wistful to see the days already growing a bit shorter, another part of me is glad to have passed the apex of the summer sun, and to know that cooler days are ahead. And, a wiser part of me knows that every moment of life is a moment of transition between the one beforehand and the one that follows. In other words, this too shall pass. For better or for worse.
This year, in particular, when there are so many missed opportunities, it’s hard to see the seasons pass and know that we are still caught in the midst of a difficult period for which there is no defined end point. Whenever we seem to approach a milestone, the post gets transferred farther down the road, or pulled out completely. It’s a fool’s errand to try to predict what will come next, and yet, because it is in our natures to plan, we continue to project and calculate, schedule and strategize.
Most of all we continue to hope, and to trust that the goodness in life of sharing time and space with friends and family is not a trifling thing that we can forego forever. I think sometimes of the movie “Jurassic Park,” which was outlandish in many ways but gave us a gem of an insight: “life finds a way.”
Over the last few months, it has been comforting to see people finding ever more creative ways to maintain closeness while we are forced to be far apart. This gives me hope that our lives, and our connections, are going on with all their vitality and brilliance, and will eventually resume the warmth of in-person interactions.
In July, when the sweltering heat traps us inside as much as the chill of winter, it’s easy to feed on our anxieties. Sometimes I feel as nerve-wracked as I did back in March, as I read frightening headlines and despair of finding a way out of this (and in many locations the news is much worse now than it was in March). But in moments of calm and reason, I remind myself how much life I have lived, how much work I have accomplished, and how much growth I have seen in my children in these last months. We continue to go on, one day at a time. Our time is precious, and while we are not spending it as we intended, it is not wasted.
I was fascinated to read this opinion piece in today’s New York Times by Farhad Manjoo about how Manhattan could be cleaner, quieter, and more pedestrian friendly if it banned private automobiles.
I suspect that it will take a very long time for this plan to come to fruition, if it ever does, but it illustrates how living through the pandemic has given us an opportunity to think differently about things and to imagine changes that we never thought possible. We have shifted drastically in our comprehension of work that can be done remotely. We now know that many fewer jobs have to be done on-site, or at least can sometimes be done off-site. This has taken away some of the value of the private car and its functionality.
Like many people, I simultaneously enjoy the benefits of owning a car and also feel burdened by dealing with traffic, parking, and car maintenance. Outside of dense, urban areas like Manhattan, cars are something of a necessity, but that doesn’t mean that we all couldn’t use them a bit less. When I worked in Downtown Pittsburgh, I liked that I could take the bus and didn’t have the frustration of sitting behind the wheel in traffic or finding an expensive parking space. But I also didn’t like waiting for the bus when it was late, or being crowded together with other passengers when it was overly packed.
Manjoo touches on a lot of the downsides of bus transit (including disease transmission), and points out that all of the drawbacks could be alleviated with less car traffic, and more investment in having buses that are less crowded and which can move faster on less congested streets.
For the moment, this is all just speculative, and there is a lot of reckoning to be done about the changing roles of cities and business districts as work shifts from being concentrated in urban centers to taking place wherever we have Internet access. However, while this is still just an idea, I am more interested in the somewhat counterintuitive concept of making cities cleaner, safer, and more accessible by reducing car traffic.
This time has resulted in significant re-evaluation of priorities and rethinking about the way we live and work. I am fascinated to see where this takes us.