March marks one year since I made the momentous move from my wee North Carolina town to Queens, NYC. On March 8, 2019, I was saying my soggy farewells to everyone who was gathered at the annual youth conference, then packing my damp self into the rental car with Abby and wending our way toward Virginia where we spent the night at a friend’s house before trekking the rest of the way to Queens the next day. Precisely one year after arriving in the city, I was standing amid my Brooklyn family, singing my heart out as backup for Charity Gayle, our guest worship leader. Again, the occasion was a little damp, but for different reasons this time. If you would have told me a year ago what I would be doing, I would have “called you a liar and spit in your lying face.” No, not really, but I would for sure have laughed at your silly notions.
It has been quite a year.
Really, March itself has been quite a year. If you had told me just at the beginning of March where we would all find ourselves at the end of it, I would probably also have laughed at you for that. I honestly find myself somewhat amused, because I have long thought that 2020 would have to be an extra good year just because it sounds so cool, and here we are, in the middle of a global pandemic. I think we can all agree that my premonitions about things can be tossed out of a window.
I wanted to write a pithy and witty post from my Queens third-floor tower about my anniversary in the city, telling you the things I’ve learned and the ways I’ve been stretched in the past year. Instead, I find myself tucked into a little green chair in Lyn’s house in North Carolina, barely employed, unsure of when I can go home, and quite without any pithy or witty words to share. I’m a little stunned at how fast life has changed, as I’m sure all of you are too.
I had a trip planned to North Carolina for a long while; I was going to come babysit a niece and nephew, and spend a little extra time catching up with family. And then this madness broke loose just before I was scheduled, and I skittered out of the city by the skin of my teeth just before it got locked down. After biting my nails about whether my flight would be cancelled, I made it to my plane in LaGuardia with the four other passengers (yes, really, the pilot welcomed “all five of us” aboard) and even though I was so relieved to be making it back to the south before I got stuck in the city, I also felt an inexplicable pang as I looked out the window. I felt distinctly as if I was abandoning my love in her time of need. Never mind that me leaving was the best thing for both of us- it just felt wrong to be forsaking so many friends and coworkers in really hard situations while I went to my cushy North Carolina situation.
So while they’ve been stuck in their apartments, only leaving for the minimum exercise and groceries and essential jobs, braving the subway madness and the insane grocery store lines and the expounding numbers of the ill, I’ve been puttering about here, going on long walks on the silent, tree-lined streets with redbuds and dogwoods and cherry trees bursting around every corner. My biggest hardships aren’t isolation and poverty, but rather not knowing where to find a nail clipper, already being tired of the clothes I brought, and the small thing of not knowing when I can go home. It’s green green green here, there are nieces and nephews and friends everywhere, and there are large backyards to cook burgers in and mountains to hike.
Our quarantine order didn’t take effect till this week, so I got some time to see friends and family before settling down to my quiet little life in my borrowed house. I wander around the creaky townhouse I’m staying in, baking carrot cakes and cleaning cupboards, taking long walks, and doing a few hours of paid work here and there. I’m staying with the same roommate I had here, I’m driving my old car which I sold to my sister, I’m working part-time for the same company I worked for when living here, I’m babysitting the same nieces and nephews as needed, and everything feels eerily as if I never left North Carolina.
But inside, nothing is the same. The house is different, the kids are bigger, the work is remote rather than in office, and my mind is constantly straying to my people who are struggling in New York City- struggling with fear and unemployment and death of loved ones and sickness all around. The hospital in my very own neighborhood has been overrun with patients, and had to have a refrigerated trailer come to take away bodies when they couldn’t handle the load of deaths. It breaks my heart to be far away, even though as I said, I know that being one less person in the city right now is the best thing I can do. I don’t know when I can go home, or if I’ll have my job when I do, and I can hardly stand how much I miss singing with my NY family.
But I am trying to lean into this time, to take advantage of the rest after a insane season of working more overtime than I could quite handle, and to soak up all the time with my family that I can get. Simultaneously I feel like I am living halfway in the city as I listen to Pastor Cymbala’s devotions and have my daily choir zoom meeting. All the while, Buble’s song lyrics run through my head, I wanna go home, let me go home. It’s the classic TCK conundrum of never being entirely un-homesick; we’re said to only be quite happy on an airplane between two places. Wry grin. It’s breaking my brain a little, because my NYC life and my NC life are such polar opposites, really, I feel like such a different person in the two places, and trying to be both at once is challenging.
All that said, I know I am incredibly blessed to be here right now- that God worked out the timing of this trip so I wouldn’t be stuck in a little apartment for months without a way to get out. Spring here didn’t get the memo about the quarantine, and it’s bursting forth in one of its best efforts yet, as if to let us know that the world still turns and nature pays no heed to our panic. I think North Carolina does spring exceptionally well, with temperatures lingering in the 70s and higher, and the perfectly landscaped lawns all try their hardest to outdo each other with the profusion of blooms. It’s so peaceful to walk down the quiet sidewalks that I’ve walked a hundred times before, and to wend my way through the hushed paths in the park nearby, soaking up the green that I’ve missed so much the last few months. I don’t know when I can go home, I don’t know if all my friends will stay well, but I do know God wasn’t the least bit surprised by this change of events.
It’s a crazy time to be alive for everyone; I guess we haven’t had anything that affected the whole world in this way since the world wars, right? Amid the lurking anxiety, my sense of adventure is also piqued, and I imagine someday I’ll tell my great-great-nieces and nephews in my quavery voice about the time I lived in NYC during the 2020 pandemic. Also my sense of God’s control over all is sharpened, and as the Shane & Shane song we sing all the time at church says,
Though the arrow flies and the terror of night is at my door, I trust you Lord.
Surely goodness, surely mercy, right beside me all my days,
And I will dwell in your house forever,
And bless your holy name.
Although we don’t know the middle parts of the plot, we do know the end of the story, and someday all will be right with the world. May goodness and mercy cover you as well. <3