I wasn’t sure what to call you at first. Fellow exile? No, that makes it sound like we’re being persecuted. Fellow displaced person? But we aren’t refugees. This extraordinary season we are living in makes me incapable of even addressing you properly, but regardless, I wanted to write to you.
I don’t know what your journey out of the city was, if you planned to leave and stay out for a while, or if you got caught a bit unawares as I did. I left New York City on March 19, intending to spend a whole nine days in North Carolina with my family, which was much longer than I’d been there for since moving to the city. I emailed the choir to ask off for one Sunday, making a note that they please don’t sing any of my favorite songs while I’m gone. I packed my carryon and froze my milk, and as it niggled in the back of my mind, I wrote out a rent check for April to leave on my whiteboard, just in case something happened.
I left LaGuardia with a lump in my throat, feeling like I was abandoning my city as every day news changed and a lockdown hung over everyone’s heads. I had no idea.
I bet you didn’t either. I know I wasn’t caught the most unawares; I have a friend who went to Florida for just three days and got stuck there for months, so I guess I should be grateful I packed more than three pairs of underwear. But as the weeks have dragged on with no end in sight, I have found it increasingly difficult to be grateful. I feel guilty for finding it so hard when so many have it much worse, especially since in my head I know that I’m in the best place for right now, as do you. But our hearts don’t always get the memo, do they?
I find myself feeling stuck between my two worlds, caught in limbo without quite being able to fully experience either one. I’m living in a world that was far more negatively impacted by the quarantine than by the virus, while weekly listening to accounts of my NYC family who are struggling to breathe as Covid attacks, or who are facing grief as friends and acquaintances succumb, or who are without jobs and have had to leave home to make ends meet. The clincher came one night when someone shrugged about some accounts that they passed off as invented- accounts which hit very close to my home- and the tears came and wouldn’t stop. I’m tired of this, aren’t you? I’m tired of biting my lip when people pass everything off as stupid, and tired of biting my lip when people think the whole world should be afraid. Not that the masses are insensitive here, aside from the occasional few with loud voices and loud opinions. I’m just tired of living both sides of the story.
But I really am enjoying my family so much, especially all the littles that didn’t know me very well anymore. Even while I squeeze them, I feel rising trepidation as they love me more and more and as the roots that I worked so hard to grow in New York City shrivel a little more each week. NYC is home, I’ll always love it, but even while I can’t wait to go back, I feel dread over just how hard it’s going to be to leave again. Again, caught in the middle, with a foot in each world.
I finally have a flight back home, and as soon as I had an end date to my time here, the familiar panic of trying to squeeze in as much as possible before I leave set in. Must see all the people I love one more time! We’ve been away long enough to develop a new routine of sorts, you know, and it isn’t easy to start over once again, especially since I’ve gotten used to the lax reopening happening already down south. I can feel anxious if I let myself- anxious about how long I’ll be trapped in my house when I return, about whether I’ll have the work I need to pay my bills, about how long it’ll be before I can go to church again, about if it’ll be terribly lonely to go back… but it’s home, and so I’m holding my breath and jumping in.
I know this letter is tinged a little blue, but I really hope you are finding hope in the middle of the middle. I hope the goodness of God has pursued you to wherever you are hiding out, same as it has me. Even while we cling to the jubilation of our first reunion with the people we love in the city, I hope we are also delighting in the long, dusky, evening walks down wooded trails with bird sounds replacing sirens, in the raspberry cream pie left in the fridge for us, in the happy cluster of shouting children running toward our cars whenever we pull in a sibling’s driveway, and most of all, in the omnipresence of God. He’s in New York City, he’s here in the south. And even better, he’s in the present and already in the future.