Your phone beeps you awake at its usual time, half past six. You do not bother to hit snooze. You cannot sleep in these days, not any longer, because the minute your mind jolts awake, your stomach jumbles into knots. You sit up at the edge of your bed and swipe your phone into silence, closing alert after alert about cities shutting down, businesses closing.
You walk to the bathroom and splash water onto your face, each morning awakening to a new reality. Then you wash your hands. You always wash your hands. Has it been twenty seconds yet? Because it feels like years have passed and still your hands are not clean enough. Perhaps they will never be clean enough again.
Body still half asleep, you throw on your shorts, tank, jacket with zippered pockets. Baseball cap on, headphones and phone in hand, shoelaces tied, you are out the door.
You are careful to press the elevator buttons with your knuckles, push doors open with your shoulder and your sleeves. And then, there you are, out on the Brooklyn sidewalk. For a minute it is as if nothing is different. The air is crisp, humming tunes of spring. The sky deep blue, hinting at purple and pink, glowing a little brighter with every morning that tilts the Earth closer to summer.
With a hop, you take off down Hicks Street. Your body is still yawning itself awake, but you know where you are going. The route is carved into your bones. You could find your way in blinding darkness, in the deepest sleep. As you pass Grace Church, you consult Spotify, that Rolodex of songs. Today calls for the Backstreet Boys, who will croon you back to a time when Corona was just a beer you weren’t yet allowed to drink, masks were only for Halloween, and Purell had yet to become part of the daily vernacular.
You turn right onto Joralemon because you always do, and soon you are upon River Deli, shaded and closed. You avoid its windowed eyes and return to the Boys, who assure you that you are their fire. These words give you pause—but no, on reflection, you do not feel a fever coming on.
The first sight of Brooklyn Bridge Park always takes your breath away, but never more so than today. For today, you see not just your usual running companions. Today, there are countless more, running up and down the Park, in shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the schools that have birthed them: Harvard, NYU, Ivy Park, CrossFit, Equinox, oh my! All of you have been flushed out from your yoga-spin-HIIT caves, bears unfurling their limbs after years of hibernation.
You stop for but a second before falling into the running stream running along the East River, keeping pace, maintaining a six-foot distance. (Always a six-foot distance.) As you pass others, you nod at the ones from schools that also birthed you. And then, too, at those from schools you don’t even recognize.
Chew on that beauty for a second, that isolation should bring to you this vibrant community.
And why shouldn’t that be the case? Have you ever felt more gratitude for the air filling your lungs? Have you ever yearned more to be outside, or for goodness’ sake, to be back in the comforting putrid channels of the subway? What happens when you must forgo all that you take for granted?
A runner in a red BU sweatshirt approaches a little too quickly, too closely. You slow your pace, swing a little out to the right of the boardwalk, create a wide berth. He passes with a smile that apologizes for his intrusion, that promises you that he does not have It.
There is a dry crackle at your throat. You swallow and confirm, thank goodness, no, it’s not a sore throat, just a function of your forgetting to pace yourself, to monitor your breathing.
The fundamentals matter now more than ever. Don’t you forget: One breath at a time.
Breathe in, and you catch the river reflecting the first glint of the early morning sun.
Breathe out, and you look across to the slumbering city that never sleeps. You look past the buildings, as if concentrated staring will bring into vision your parents, just a borough or two away, older, weaker, so vulnerable to all the viruses you might be carrying.
Your flock turns onto Pier 2 now, basketball courts abandoned, roller rink shuttered. A blonde runs past you, keeping that respectable six-foot distance, at her side a matching yellow lab, pink tongue lolling out of a drooling, smiling mouth. Have the dogs of New York ever been happier? Mommy is always home now.
Rounding the corner of the pier, you see orange streaks filling the sky. You look down to make sure your laces are still tied, for no one can afford for you to break your leg now. You are tempted to keep your gaze down, on the gray concrete that is interrupted every now and then by your pounding white shoes.
But remember, it is the fundamentals that matter, now more than ever. One foot in front of the other. Back straight, chin up, arms swinging, gaze forward. Look out at the processional of people before you, your companions. Look out at the winding asphalt ahead, so far left to go, so much left to run. Look at the green trees, swaying in the wind, the only constant in this changing landscape. Propel forward on your right foot. Now your left.
Breathe in, fill your lungs with air, give gratitude for this one life.
Breathe out, nod at the passing runners, a reminder that you all run as one.
If you find that your eyes drop to the ground again, don’t worry. Just pick them up again. Keep them directed forward, past the people, past the trees, past the napping Brooklyn Bridge. That’s right. Look as far out as you can, and then look even further out than that. Do you see that, just beyond those orange streaks? Do you see it?
That’s right, there it is. You’ve got it. You see it now: Already, rays of its fierce redness approach. Here comes the awaking sun. It is coming back for us.
Make no mistake: it will always come back for us.