When the Clapping Stops

Right now, our governor, or just about anyone you speak to offers up adulation for the city workers who are keeping New York City running.  There’re memes and graphics showing them as heroes and I too join in the praise.  After all, these are the people that are risking their own safety to help our city, and they are our heroes. The same thing happened 18 years ago during 911although with a different focus. I found myself constantly visiting firehouses, volunteering, baking cookies anything to help the city workers who aided and even lost their lives protecting the citizens of our city.  That praise, while not gone entirely has diminished. Will it happen again?

Currently, I hear everyone thanking the teenagers who ring up their groceries in loosely fitted blue masks – when months earlier they wouldn’t even look them in the eye, too busy on their cell phones to interact.  The transportation workers who still show up for work daily are dying in disproportion numbers.  Our postal workers who already trudge through sleet and rain are now risking their lives to bring your Amazon packages and mail, while the president threatens not to bail them out.  The list of city workers who in essence are the only thread holding our city together are thanked heavily during this time, but what will happen when we don’t need them to this extent anymore? Will we go back to our old ways?

The clapping begins and I put down my laptop and head to my window, I see the same family outside that I see every night – a young couple with two kids who wave at me. Up until a few weeks ago I never knew they existed. I can’t see anyone else from the angle of my window in my apartment. I scream at the tops of my lungs and place my hands together like I am giving a standing ovation at a concert.  And at that moment I am part of this city, part of this community and the biggest fan of healthcare workers on the planet.  But is this like any other fad; a one-hit-wonder that is played over and over again and then eventually forgotten? 

I’ve always been particularly fond of the city workers; I see them with more regularity than some of my closest friends. The bodega workers who guard my keys when I used to be able to travel, the deli man at Keyfood that refers to me as his friend when I see him with his hairnet in between the aisles, the bus drivers whom I always thank for taking me to and fro. And especially my favorite mailman, whose name I never learned his name, but who knew every single resident on his route and if I saw him on the avenue would take out my letters and hand them to me with a smile. How was that possible? 

While we are all changed from this horror the ones who are altered the most are those in battle.  Where will we be for the healthcare workers who are on the battlefield when this is all over?  What will happen when the clapping stops and we slowly return to our new normal lives? Will we still be kind? Will we give our seat up to a nurse in scuffed white shoes on the subway – will we dare to engage with our cashiers? Will 7:00 PM become just another passing of time?

When you stop a clap midway, it leaves you in a prayer position. A namaste. Which means I bow to you, that my heart is in that of another.  I know 18 years later my heart still sinks a little every time I see a fireman or EMT worker. I am fairly certain that will happen when I see a healthcare worker in their pastel scrubs. When the clapping stops the city as we knew it will be born again, resurrected like Pompeii or Atlantis, survivors of war.  And when the Big Apple is polished off and grand again how will you have changed? Who will you be when the clapping stops?

Elana Rabinowitz is a freelance writer and ESL teacher who has written for The Washington Post, New York Times, and USA Today. Follow her on twitter at @ElanaRabinowitz.