Monday, March 30, 2020

#SOL20 - Symbols: Notes from the Pandemic


I haven’t been able to grasp the fullness of this pandemic and what it means. I understand what a pandemic is and yet, I am not fully aware of the personal, financial, and societal implications of the pandemic. Concrete symbols seem to carry far more influence than the chatter I hear on news shows or the stories I read online.

The Javits Center is located at the end of the street where Rob’s family business was located on West 36th Street in Manhattan. I can remember parking the car in the narrow parking lot next to Rob’s business and walking down the street to visit the Javits Center during the annual Book Expo, a conference that Rob and I went to.

Book Expo at Javits Center
Because I have tired myself walking the floors of that Expo, I have a sense of the largeness of the Javits Center. When I saw photographs like the one below that shows how the Javits Center has been repurposed to now be a 1200-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients needing care,  the reality of this pandemic becomes clearer.


Symbols matter. It’s the familiar places that have been transformed that most allow me to catch a glimpse of the pandemic in ways that unsettle the calmness I try to pull around myself.

In a similar manner, I was talking with a colleague who was working in a NJ hospital and she said that the most terrifying change in NJ hospitals was the recent introduction of refrigerated trailers, that are intended to operate as temporary morgues.

I see these trucks and I think Walmart delivery, not a temporary place to store bodies. This shocks me and in doing so, the bigness of what we are in and what is before us flickers a bit and I see clearly for a moment.


I think now that no ones really lives through a pandemic. Rather, we live each moment of each day and those days accumulate into weeks and those weeks will later be chopped up and assigned labels such as: beginning, apex, end. The neatness of naming will undermine the vast uncertainty we have felt.

For now, I know that time is surely relative. Since March 5th, there has been no 24-hour period that felt like a day. Where I work (which is actually in my home now), the pace is relentless, frantic. On weekends, the work continues even when I swear it won’t. I know I am not alone, nor am I in a critical field where life and death is being determined.

A field hospital sits on the lawn in Central Park where normally young, healthy bodies play sports, rest and read books, and picnic and chat. I have photographed there more times than I can count. The parking lot of Bergen Community College that sits opposite the high school I went to is now a drive through COVID-19 testing site. The Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus will open as a field hospital within a week.

All these symbols represent the seismic shift states are undertaking to better prepare for the massive number of sick and dying.

It is these shifts, these repurposing of familiar places that most help me to grasp what this pandemic is at this moment.

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