Red Hook

Opinions & Observations: Social distancing has brought us closer together

March 23, 2020 Anne Saxelby
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Over the past week, the lives of all New Yorkers have been upended by the encroachment of the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone is living moment to moment, day to day, waiting for the next announcement from the government and the next bit of bad news. To say our new world is fraught with anxiety is an understatement. 

Social distancing has become necessary to protect public health. We’re now mandated to stand six feet away from one another in a city where six feet of subway car is usually occupied by 10 or more people.

This social distancing can lead to some awkward interactions. Upon entering a bakery one morning, I apparently did not give the person coming out a wide enough berth and was met with narrowed eyes as they passed me. I simply smiled and apologized, making a mental note to steer clear enough of others to avoid getting the stink eye. In fact – I’ve been making it a point to smile broadly at everyone I see when I’m out (albeit from the proper distance) reawakening my dormant Midwesterner after more than 20 years of living in the city.

There are fewer people out and about than ever, yet there is a tangible warmth and life to the city’s stoops, residential blocks and parks. People have slowed down. People are literally stopping to smell the flowers. People are running, biking and spending more time with their families each day than they probably have in years. It’s true that we don’t have a choice, but it’s also true that because of our limitations, we’re reaching deeper into ourselves to find and celebrate the simple pleasures of everyday life in New York.

I live in Brooklyn and ride my bike to work in Red Hook every day. On a ride home recently, I saw more people sitting out on their stoops than I’ve ever seen. They were drinking coffee, holding their dogs on their laps, taking in the unseasonably warm spring evening. I saw parents outside with their children drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. I saw small congregations of neighbors chatting from the requisite distance, making each other laugh and smile.  

When I got to Grand Army Plaza my jaw really dropped. I was waiting at a stoplight at one of the busiest intersections in Brooklyn behind upwards of ten cyclists, and there was exactly one car waiting for the light to turn green. The traffic into Prospect Park was unbelievable, and it was .01 percent automobile. Humans, dogs, bikes, strollers and the parents that push them were streaming in to enjoy one of the city’s most important civic achievements. New Yorkers may be under an invisible siege, but we’ve arguably never been more fit and more appreciative of our parks, waterfront and bike lanes.

New Yorkers are stepping up and checking in to help one another out in this time of crisis. Whether it’s reaching out to older neighbors to make sure they have the food and supplies they need, FaceTiming with someone who is quarantined, or collecting supplies for first responders, everyday people are taking it upon themselves to ask what they can do for their neighbors, friends and family, and are doing it beautifully.

COVID-19 has altered every aspect of our lives. It has wreaked untold financial havoc, made some of us and our loved ones sick, and pushed pretty much every norm — social, financial, professional — out the proverbial window. But it has also strangely brought us closer together. When this storm has passed, we should remember some of the lessons that this crisis has only just begun to teach us. We’ll be better for it.

Anne Saxelby is the founder and co-owner of Saxelby Cheesemongers, New York City’s first shop dedicated to selling only American artisan cheeses, with a warehouse in Red Hook, a retail shop in Chelsea Market and clientele that includes over 100 restaurants and shops throughout New York City. 

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