Fourth of July in the time of Corona

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AThe Fourth of July holiday is one of the most celebrated holidays across religions and states and ethnic and moral persuasions in the US. We literally stop everyday life preparing for and celebrating freedom. It is an excuse to party and go on vacation and just have a good time. Not this year.

With most of the country seeing a surge in cases and deaths, there is not much to celebrate. Here in New York, I’d like to think we’ve been through the worst of it, but I say that with a bit of trepidation knowing the heavy hand of a resurgence can hit us anytime.

After months of working from home, I’ve learned to ease up and start working towards “normalizing”. But what exactly is that during this time when we are living life in such a different atmosphere?

For the first time in many years, the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks display was cancelled. Many New Yorkers, and many Americans in general, contented themselves with local fireworks displays from home or the neighborhood. Nothing quite like the fireworks show of New Year’s Eve back in the Philippines, but loud and celebratory in a different kind of way. It was like America was saying we will celebrate freedom, corona virus or no corona virus — but know we cannot celebrate like we used to.

The subject of Freedom itself is being stretched in all directions in recent months. It’s like a renewed consciousness among a very diverse people who are reacquainting themselves with the notions of race and authority — in very varied ways. I will not get into that here. It is still a very raw subject matter, and I don’t feel I am in a place where I can discuss this for now. In time.

We in New York still feel the threat of the virus very strongly. And I am grateful for that, because I know we’re moving towards getting back to a semblance of normalcy, but with an abundance of caution. I am grateful to be given the option to work from home. I am also grateful that wearing masks is now mandated by stores and other establishments. It has sunk into our consciousness as part of the social norm. If you don’t wear a mask, you risk the ire of other New Yorkers who do, and you will be denied entry into all establishments that require it. That makes it more acceptable to go out and live everyday with less fear, but not without it.

I think fear is a good thing. It makes us take that extra step to ensure that we do not unduly expose ourselves to the risk of infection. The virus is very real and still ravaging parts of the country and the world as a whole. It has penetrated our every day lives in such a pervasive way, that we are rethinking how we go about business and life, in general, with sweeping strokes.

On Friday, my sixteen year old son asked permission to join a group of friends for a Fourth of July gathering where they had fireworks. It was in the neighborhood, and he asked for a just a few hours. My first impulse was to say no. But we have had to be cooped up the last couple of weeks, and I know he wants to see his friends. I have allowed him to go biking or play hoops with a small group of 3 friends from way back. I have instructed him not to go into anyone’s house, and to be sure he wears his mask. All of this is on an honor system, and I’ve reinforced the fact that he has to abide by the rules.

My ex husband has even driven him to a park to meet with three classmates from high school, giving them a few hours to hang out and then driving him back home.

As summer has arrived, my ex and I have agreed to limit these social interactions to one a week. So back to the party.

I immediately communicated my reservations to the ex, but also told him I don’t really want to have my son feeling like he was being deprived of the opportunity to enjoy the summer. With reservations, I told his Dad that maybe we should consider it. My son had name-dropped one of his childhood friends who was going, and I thought I would speak with the mom, whom I knew, just to set parameters. But I didn’t know the host.

I woke up the next morning with a very heavy heart and a resolve to not allow the boy to go. How can you maintain social distancing in a Fourth of July party? It was in a home, not in the park. Parties and such gatherings have been known to become breeding grounds for super spreading, which has led to many infections in other places. I just wasn’t ready to take the chance.

Fortunately for me, the ex felt the same way. For all our differences, parenting is one of the things we still usually agreed upon. We decided not to let him go.

Breaking the news to the boy wasn’t as easy, as he immediately responded with an emotional “Why?”. I tried to explain my reservations, and told him his father and I had agreed with no argument. We felt strongly about it and it wasn’t a risk we were willing to take. These are unusual times. On anormal Fourth of July, we would not think twice about letting him go, but we are far from normal.

He made no pains to hide the fact that he was deeply disappointed. But that was that.

I don’t want to be part of the problem — many people have gathered and broken social distancing rules. It makes me feel frustrated about the fact that relaxing the social distancing norms seem to be so widespread among those who feel they can, because they are being careful. In my mind, no matter how careful you may think you are being, the fact that you are increasing your exposure to infection is diluting your caution.

I still feel uneasy when I encounter people who aren’t wearing a mask, as I walk past them wearing mine. I have resorted to finding alternative walking routes with less traffic, giving up the path in the park during popular times when many joggers and other visitors forego the required mask. I know it’s an open air environment, but that does not mean the absence of the possibility of infection.

The local grocery requires masks and gloves now, and I felt bad that I went in earlier after my walk without the gloves. (Reminder to self: shove a pair in my pockets tomorrow.). I do walk with a small bottle of sanitizer which I either tuck in my leggings pocket or hold with my phone during my usual walk about. Signs are plastered to maintain distancing. Even the neighborhood bagel shops had social distancing in the lines that formed outside. This is the new normal.

So even as we celebrated a different way, we celebrated. We celebrated freedom, even with the constraints of our new normal. Happy Fourth, America!

Celebrating Freedom

Another Fourth of July weekend just ended and we’re heading back to work today.  It’s  one of those Tuesday’s that feel like a Monday and make you wish that the weekend didn’t just end.

I have been here, there, and everywhere with around three posts wallowing in my draft folder here.  So not for lack of trying, but it’s been quite the effort to get something published.  I did go on vacation (yay!) and before I get started on dreaming about that and getting stuck there again, let me just say that Fiji was just paradise!  (Fourth post to be drafted!)

I didn’t have any special plans for the long weekend that just passed, probably due to the fact that I am still “recovering” from the week-long taste of bliss — and I am glad I didn’t push it because I think I finally got rid of the jetlag.  16 hours ahead of New York isn’t that easy to get back from, more so since I plunged back into work the day after arriving at past midnight Monday.

This is is now my 17th Fourth of July celebration  and I’ve mostly celebrated it  just watching the fireworks on television, except the two times when I watched it “live” in the city with my sister in 2001, I believe — (Or might’ve been 2002..), and the last time in 2013 with BFF Donna and her family.  It’s a spectacular show but one which, once you’ve seen it, you can chalk up as an experience under the “been there, done that” category.  It’s just too much hassle to get close to the city on this day of days and then make it back to wherever you came from.

But one thing struck me yesterday as I was reminded by a friend’s Instagram post on how we celebrate freedom in these parts.  She quoted Erma Bombeck who said:

You have to love a nation that celebrates its Independence Day every July 4th not with a parade of guns, tanks and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.  You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”

I never took notice until I read this the other day, and I must say it speaks for the American way of life in volumes.  While most Americans are unaware the the basic freedoms they take forgranted are denied many people in other parts of the world, the way they celebrate the birthday of the nation emphasizes the very core of what those freedoms have evolved to: the right to do what they want on this day.

I was a Martial Law baby and I grew up under a regime that has curfews and where the basic right of the writ of habeas corpus was suspended.  That is a concept and a world that many wouldn’t be able to visualize or imagine outside of the Philippines.  Even now, many young people back home hold their strong opinions about the curtailment of those freedoms back then, without actually having experienced their curtailment.  I was not a victim back then and I have my own opinion about whether or not we were better off then as a people, or if we are better off now— but the flood of freedom in a country that lives it as a way of life is not lost upon me.

There is much to celebrate and be grateful for.  Happy birthday, America!!