**A FRIEND FROM** Connecticut called to suggest I wait out the coronavirus pandemic in the small house my husband and I own up there. “Isn’t it better to be out of the city?” she asked.
Is it? A friend in Colorado thinks the answer is a no-brainer: “You should leave.” According to the super in my Lower Manhattan co-op, almost half of my neighbors agree, having high-tailed it to Long Island or upstate New York or, yes, Connecticut.
I did the math. It’s the same everywhere. Even if it was OK to go out, the places I might want to or need to go are closed, and store shelves clear out as quickly as they fill up. The good news is that having been raised by parents who were always ready to “duck and cover” in the event of nuclear war, I keep the pantries in both homes stocked with nonperishables, flashlights, batteries and candles. And wine.
In the past, I’ve had to dip into each of these disaster caches. I was in my apartment during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. I was in Connecticut during the blackout that occurred the following summer. I was in my apartment for the blackouts and water outages that followed Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. In each case, I had the goods, I had my family, and I had my neighbors. Under trying conditions, we made room for the displaced, shared supplies, had dinner parties by candlelight and celebrated birthdays. I was sustained by the satisfaction that comes from working with others to overcome a crisis.
Be Brave. Do Nothing.
This time it’s different. No matter where I wait out COVID-19, social distancing requires me to stay away from my adult children, my elderly mother and my neighbors. I can’t support local businesses because most are closed. I can’t go out, can’t volunteer to help. The neighbors from New York and Connecticut I’ve hunkered down with in the past have moved away in the last few years. But even if they were still nearby, this time there will be no comfort from a barbecue by moonlight or a building potluck.
Small victories in the face of a crisis – ducking under a barricade to go home, using electrical outlets in park light poles to charge phones, throwing a party, deciding to stop being scared – allowed me to feel brave. This time the brave thing to do is – nothing. And as someone who can’t pass up a book or documentary about extraordinary feats of survival, I’ve yet to come across one where triumph was achieved by doing nothing.
If Ernest Shackleton had practiced social distancing, he could not have led the crew of his wrecked ship to safety after being stranded in Antarctica for two years (before the invention of polar fleece). If Nando Parrado had sheltered in place instead of climbing a 15,000- foot mountain in the Andes (wearing a tattered sports jacket), the teenager would have died along with his fellow rugby players whose plane had crashed 72 days earlier.
If our best chance to get through the coronavirus pandemic is to stay put, the question for me is not so much where I should do it but how. In his books, “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why” and “Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things,” Laurence Gonzales examines the common behaviors exhibited by people who not only persevere but excel during disasters such as war, plane crashes and even heartaches. A list of these traits is tacked to my bulletin board. As I have done at other difficult times, I took it down to see if this recipe for survival could help me now:
How to Survive:
• Do the next right thing
• See what’s really there, not what I wish was there
• Find the beauty in my surroundings
• Use humor to blend emotion with intellect
• Respect the situation
• Surrender, but don’t give up
• Break the journey out into small, doable steps
• Get informed, take stock of supplies
• Help others
• Be humble, don’t celebrate the summit
I thought of the checking-on-you calls I had begun getting and making, the reconnecting emails I was getting and writing, my piano teacher watching my fingers clomp along the keyboard on her iPad during our first remote lesson. Yesterday at midnight, my husband and I snuck out to the Hudson River Park where we played tennis blocks away from the nearest person, with only sparkling city lights around us.
When I asked one of my neighbors why she was staying in our building rather than her country house, she said: “Why would I go? I want to be where I’m the most comfortable.” Sitting at my desk, I stared at the list of survival skills, took a deep breath and did the next right thing. I called my friend in Connecticut to give her my answer: “I’m staying in New York.”