This Is Not Goodbye, New York

It’s inching closer to summer. I should be Googling new recipes using my garden vegetables. I should be cleaning out my office in preparation for the end of the school year. I should be cursing the rush hour traffic. I should be shuttling my children to play rehearsal and softball games and birthday parties. I should be desperately longing for a few minutes to do absolutely nothing. 

But that life has vanished. 

This morning started out the same way as all the others this spring. I woke up, turned on my phone, and read through the news. I was greeted by another set of grim COVID-19 headlines. New York, my home, has quickly become the epicenter of a global health crisis. The City That Never Sleeps has been suddenly silenced. 

I got out of bed and made extra strong coffee for my husband and me. I prepared breakfast for our two children. I nervously noted some supplies running low. I am a high school counselor, but now I go to work by wandering into my dining room. I called my students on the phone and answered more of their questions via email, trying my best to support them from miles away. My husband, a teacher, sat next to me and planned his lessons. We sent the children into the yard to play. The girls came back into the house and finished their schoolwork and ate lunch. Someone threw a load of laundry in the machine. I should have felt accomplished, but I did not. I was filled with restless energy, like how I feel before a blizzard. It’s this ominous sense of danger coming.  

I allowed myself a moment to be afraid. I took another moment to say a prayer for my sister, one of the heroic medical professionals fighting this war. One more for all the first responders and hospital staff. One last one to ask HaShem to protect all of my family, friends, and students; I put their safety in His hands. My eyes burned, but I refused to cry. 

 I closed the windows on my laptop, and decided to take a break. I was greeted by my wallpaper, a photo of the Dead Sea. Cakes of salt dot the sand, pointing the way to clear aqua water. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. It’s been a year and a half since my trip to Israel, but in that moment, I could almost smell the desert air. The memories calmed me. I think of the Hebrew phases I learned on my tour. They are cherished souvenirs. 

L’hitraot – my favorite. In Hebrew, there’s no word that definitively means goodbye. Loosely translated, l’hitraot means “see you later.” It reminds me that the language of the Jewish people is profoundly optimistic, despite our history; perhaps we’re optimistic because of our history. Jews have survived plagues, pogroms, wars, and we’re still here.

 I’m here, and I miss simple things I had taken for granted: chatting with neighbors, synagogue services, hugging my relatives, brunch with friends, my daughter’s basketball games, playing with my little nephews. We’re lucky to have FaceTime and videoconferencing, but it’s not the same.

The response to the coronavirus outbreak presents a unique struggle. “Social distancing” might be good for my physical well-being, but it replaces the threat of illness with fear and solitude.  Too many people I know are suffering alone. This mandatory isolation feels counter-intuitive. In other times of crisis, communities have needed to come together.

I take a breath, and it steadies me. I try to remember that this too will pass. I remember that I still have a choice. I can choose how to handle the test in front of me. I choose to count my blessings. I had wished for a chance to say goodbye to the life I had known, but now I realize “goodbye” is too final. “Goodbye” assumes all vestiges of those days are gone. Yet the things that have changed can change again. I think of my life and the world I knew, and I choose the hopeful Hebrew word, l’hitraot. See you soon.