I stopped to grab a slice of pizza at Joe’s Pizza on Carmine Street today. Joe’s is a New York instutution, a legendary place that is always busy, and where you typically stand shoulder to shoulder with other patrons as you eat your slice, unless you’re lucky enough to grab one of the three stools they have in the shop.
Today it was a ghost town. In accordance with the new requirements to facilitate social distancing, they had removed the three stools and the one table in the middle of the small shop, and filled the counters around the perimeter with pizza boxes, to prevent patrons from lingering in the store.
I took my slice outside to eat it at the outdoor counter. A man who had entered after me soon came outside with his slice and set up at the other end of the counter to allow as much space between us as possible.
Carmine Street, a small stretch in the West Village that is usually hopping at all hours, was uncharacteristically subdued. Like the rest of the city, it has been overtaken by a slow quiet that is more typical of an early Sunday morning vibe.
This is New York City in the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Suddenly the quiet was disrupted by a commotion behind me. I turned around to see a man laying in the middle of the street. He had been hit by a man riding a bicycle the wrong way down the one-way street.
He seemed to be fine (at least fine enough to yell at the cyclist). It was a reminder that the coronavirus is not the only danger that awaits us when we leave the safety of our homes.
I often say that if you thought about all the things that could happen to you outside your home, you’d never leave. At least until you realized all the things that could happen to you inside your home.
Life is risk.
In the past week or so, I’ve heard from many people who are feeling uprooted by the unpredictability of current events. Suddenly we “don’t know” what’s going to happen. It feels like we’ve lost all sense of certainty.
Yes, we have lost things. We are grieving. But it’s important to be clear about what we lost.
We have not lost certainty; we have lost the illusion of certainty. We’ve never known what was going to happen.
This is certainly a loss. Our illusions have been shattered.
It is scary. Unnerving. And also: liberating.
We don’t know what will happen. Life is uncertain. When we accept this, we can release our grasp on what we thought we could control, what we thought we knew, what we thought was certain.
And when we let go, that is when we can really start to live.