A Captivating Gaze: The Pandemic through the lens of a New Yorker

The New York Times, “A Season of Grief and Release: 5 Months of the Virus in New York City,” August 7, 2020

by Ethan Chen

Fastened to a pine-green window frame, a white ribbon flutters ever so slightly in the wind. All else is still. Formerly congested streets now seldom encounter the tires of cars. The honks that once echoed throughout the city have ceased. Only ambulance sirens ring. Yellow cabs rarely whiz; vibrant food stands have vanished. The whisper of steam rising from gutters has replaced the song of pedestrian chatter. The one time bustling New York City — “The City That Never Sleeps” — has come to a halt. The pandemic has forced it to momentary rest. 

Exhausted and spent, she rests her head in her palms. She sits by her open window, motionless for hours. Following the horrific yet addictive news — seeing ever-rising exponential, tsunami-like graphs of death — has stolen her smiles and numbed her to reality’s touch. The frigid Atlantic breeze bites her face. She does not shiver; she does not flinch.

The white ribbon, a symbol of support for healthcare workers, forms the only barrier between her and her city. But everyday, she desires to step across this ribbon. I see this longing in her gazing eyes, in her solemn countenance.

But perhaps her gaze is not of grief for her city, or for her wish to venture from home. Perhaps it is one of contemplation. Perhaps she now spends her days, monotonous and mundane, studying the maples that line her block — their bark, their branches, their sway.

Or maybe she, holding a blank gaze, recalls previous spring afternoons. From the Ravioli Co. below, the aromas of fresh pasta — pappardelle, tortellini, ravioli — crushed roma tomatoes, sautéed garlic, and ribboned basil, would waft upstairs. She would hear the chefs bicker, the regulars chatter. She reminisces about meals spent downstairs, comforted by friends, family, and warm bowls of spaghetti bolognese. Warmth fills her. She almost smiles. 

Attempting to uncover the mystery behind that gaze, I’ve memorized her image, her chestnut eyes, her ash blonde hair, her silver ring. But while her gaze tells many stories, only she knows which story is true. Yet still I try, empathizing with her, imagining myself as her… 

Looking out her pine-green window, I can almost feel the Atlantic breeze biting, a fluttering white ribbon at my fingertips.