New York City
The five stages of grief are widely recognized as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. In this year of simultaneous cataclysms, there is so much to grieve, and so many to grieve for. If and when you can reconcile your despair for one tragedy, another comes along to take its place. Rather than cycling through the stages, we stay on the carousel, riding around and around and around.
And yet, there is still tenderness. Like a small, flowering weed pushing up from the pile of debris blocking a street drain, there it is. Masked people walking their dogs, afraid to get too close, let the animals stretch to the end of their leashes and briefly touch noses. The owners try to make creases around their eyes so the other can tell that they’re smiling behind the face covering.
A small consolation when what they probably need is a long embrace, but it feels sweet just the same. Even the graffiti reads like a love letter: Fuck the police! which really means You deserve so much better than this.
Relatives from Rural, USA call to check in, concerned for our safety because they heard on the “news” that the city is gripped by ANARCHY. Apparently, extremists have taken over and now none of us are safe unless we pledge our undying loyalty to Mr. President. That’s why Storm Trooper wannabes must be sent in - to restore LAW AND ORDER to us HEATHENS. It’s for our own good, and if we can’t see that then maybe we don’t deserve any government services at all! Who cares if it’s our tax money to begin with?
We shake our heads and laugh, looking at the groups of beautiful people of all races, ages, and cultural backgrounds happily picnicking all around us in the park. When the city shut down during the first wave of sickness, the parks department made budget cuts. The grass hasn’t been mowed, and the trash isn’t being emptied. The bin nearest us is overflowing and the putrid stench of garbage occasionally wafts over to where we’re sitting in a circle, 6 feet apart. Some of the people gathered had recently participated in a protest for racial justice. They were cautious but they may have been exposed, so they do what they can to keep the rest of us safe.
I think about the reasons for the protest. Layleen Polanco was found dead in a jail cell, Rem’Mie and Riah Milton were lynched in public, the police are still killing unarmed citizens in the streets, and the government has enacted new reforms that okay further discrimination against transgendered people. I also think about the 15,000 people, all dressed in white, who silently marched, filling multiple city blocks around the steps of a museum still closed to visitors because of the pandemic. They came to listen to the friends and family of the honored dead. They came to show solidarity. They came with grief and with tenderness.