On my Bike, Week 17 in the Time of Coronavirus

Each one of us have been impacted by the Coronavirus in a personal way.  Some have been ill. Many have been in quarantine. Too many have lost their jobs and income, some of our loved ones have died.  And, the weight of the pandemic continues.  Friends have been divided based on the level of protection we have chosen.  Plans have been cancelled.  Supply chains are interrupted.  And we have all made appropriate adjustments centered on what is right for us under these circumstances.  

I am riding my bicycle more than I have in past years.  I like it because once I pass the trafficked streets it’s easy to ride the slow lane in the park.  And, as with every activity, I wear my mask, wishing everyone would wear there’s when in public.  This is a reflection of the rumble of fear right below the surface.  I am as afraid to infect others as I am of contracting a life-threatening illness.  As an extra precaution, I ride at times when the park is apt to be less populated.  So far, so good.  

My bicycle is a low-standing, folding bike.  I like the truncated height because my feet can easily reach the ground.  A throwback to shaky bike riding during the long summers peddling to The Haddontowne Swim Club.  I keep my bicycle in my office, located on the ground floor, to avoid schlepping it up and down the stairs of our apartment building.  It’s nice when I can create a simple solution.  Stashing my bike in the office also gets me out more.  Given these times, if it’s easy, it’s more apt to get done.  

Humidity was high this weekend. I don’t mind that so much.   It’s pleasant to feel a light breeze cruising down the hills.  Tracing the topography of Central Park, as well as the streets on the Upper Eastside, is a unique experience I encounter during my rides.  It’s physical and mental.  And a bit more challenging while wearing my mask.  I even tried a cycling mask, which was hot and constricting, making it harder to ride.  So, I returned to my office for the light cotton style that allows for an easier, though somewhat restrictive, air flow.  

I am both challenged and contented on these rides.  For one, though a cliché, the short journey on my bike is a metaphor for my ability to face difficulties and experience joy. I have to harness the energy to get up a hill.  Whether I go slowly or forge ahead, I can feel my muscles in motion.  My body is supporting me in moving through space.  My mind is telling me I can do it.  My conviction assures me I will do it.  I am grateful that I am at an age that I can trust this thinking.  I didn’t have that ability twenty years ago.  And, I understand that taking on the big and small hills builds mental and physical strength so that I can face them and others like them again.

Conversely, I can enjoy the flat roads, the ease of cycling at a pace that suits me.  I can enjoy the light breezes of summer as I turn the pedals.  Also, I get to know the streets that are open to me.  When I’m short on time, or just want a different ride, I make two rights to get to East End Avenue.  It’s partially closed to traffic, making it a great option. Cycling on East End is convenient and stress-free. Before the pandemic, I had no idea that I live on the top of a gentle slope. I never really saw the hilly street as anything but quiet. It’s a lovely way to get to know the city’s surfaces.  Enjoying old pleasures now is reminiscent of childhood, when every adventure was new again.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Purposelessly take a break.  Rather than push through, stop, meditate, or take a breath, and slow things down a beat.  It’s personally affirmational.  
  • Send a card or a letter snail-mail to someone who has been on your mind.  
  • Bring fresh herb plants into your home.  They smell great, and you can always clip them to flavor your meals and drinks.  If you already have an indoor or outdoor herb garden, perhaps adding another fragrant herb will round out the robust fragrances.  
  • Change up something in your routine(s).  For instance, walk a different direction to get a different view.  Or, if you always brush your teeth after your shower, brush them before.  It will feel odd to do something slightly differently, but it changes how we see things, and will allow for a new perspective.  
  • Smile under your mask.  It’s a mood changer.  

Week 15 in the Time of Coronavirus; Diminished Choices

Summer is here.  But it’s not like summers of our past.  Vacation options are restricted. Outdoor dining is limited. And sometimes the choices at hand are not terrific.  So, what to do?  If I can’t make long-term plans, I can think of what may or may not take place on any given day.  

Take this morning, for instance.  My plan was to walk to Central Park, take a slow run in the shadiest, least crowded spots, then come home to write this blog post.  I tried writing yesterday, but I hit a wall in all things productive, and rested more than anything else.  

So, earlier today I left later than planned, walked to the park noticing the bustle of Stage 2 of our city opening.  I was in turns impressed and apprehensive.  I listened to a book, did my run, and had the pleasure of speaking with a friend, and purchasing fruits for the week.  Okay, okay, I may have found a good number of ways to procrastinate, but in the end, I’m sitting here thinking about the choices I made to start my day.  

What I’ve noticed, more in retrospect than at the exact moment, is that I’m making small choices throughout each day.  Most of these are seemingly insignificant decisions based on what’s right in front of me.  Even with the to-do lists I write, if I don’t review them, it’s probable that less than half the items on that list will get done.  Instead I assess my wants and needs, or I impulsively make a determination because I can.  I checked out my office grocery needs by stopping into Whole Foods.  I had no intention of going there this morning, but I was passing by and it seemed like a good idea.  As it turned out, it was a good idea.  They had exactly what I wanted, and the store was pretty empty.  I was in and out in less than 15 minutes.  

However, good choices are hard to come by these days.  I’m noticing that choices during the pandemic have been informed by my perception of what will keep me and others safe.  Sometimes the choices were fraught with anxiety.  Where can I walk keeping proper social distancing?  What can I say that is respectful to others while holding my personal truths?  How can I maintain patience in the face of grief and stress?  And, how do I let go of plans that have changed while finding joy in the every day?  I have no definitive answers.  At times I’m successful in finding ways to answer them truthfully.  And, sometimes I get it wrong and have to learn from these failures to find grace under fire.  

I think we’re all exhausted from calibrating these small choices.  But when plans can’t proceed, and I’m faced with a lack of control, then I’m left with the small choices of everyday living.  They aren’t fancy, but, when I make them consciously, they keep me grounded.  And, when I’m a bit out of it and I make a choice, I get to assess the benefits, or lack thereof, when I’m fully present again.  

There will come a time when we will navigate our world post-Covid-19.  When and how remain to be seen.  For now, I can choose a proper mask each day, and live moment by moment, choice by incremental choice.  

Well-Being Suggestions

  • Choose one brave act a day.  Make it small.  Choose to say “yes” to something that is unfamiliar.  Or choose to say “no” to something that doesn’t sound right.  
  • Write a letter from your future self.  Write from a place of having accomplished something you’ve wanted, or having a view point of something you’ve learned.
  • Laugh.  If you can’t find something funny, use an old acting exercise and force yourself to laugh aloud until it turns into a genuine laugh.  Sometimes it helps to do it with others, because laughter is contagious.  
  • If you are thinking negative thoughts, when you’re alone say them to yourself out loud.  But do it in an accent, not in your own voice.  It allows you to hear harsh thoughts in a different way and can lessen their impact. 
  • Find a smooth patch of skin on yourself and rub it.  It will bring tenderness to your self-care.  I like the inside of my forearm. If you can’t do that, find fabric that is soft and rub that to soothe yourself.  

Week 16 in the Time of Coronavirus; Attending to the Mundane

While social distancing, and quarantining when necessary, I have experienced, as we all have, moments in which we are faced with small but necessary tasks.  Cleaning for me is one of those responsibilities that feels great when it’s done, yet I procrastinate getting it done.  This weekend I had to defrost my small office freezer.  It’s not so difficult as it is annoying.  And, even on the annoying scale it’s pretty low, especially when we have to deal with so many annoyances while going through this Covid-19 period.  Nonetheless, when the ice trays can’t be removed, and my Tito’s bottle is stuck, both from neglect, as well as frost accumulation, it’s time to take on the mini fridge.  

The nice part about it is that I can do it in stages.  First stage is to empty out everything from the refrigerator.  Mostly it’s water bottles, beverages, and condiments.  I place anything that needs to be kept cold in a bag.  Then I turn off the unit, open the door, and place a large, absorbent towel in front to prevent flooding.  Next I haul the bag one and half blocks where I place it in my apartment fridge.  From there I went on a walk.  

I loved the walk.  It was a hot and humid day yesterday.  So I walked a bit slower into Central Park, then north on the bridal path, and uptown once again to the shady north woods along a brook.  It was quiet and peaceful.  I try to take paths I don’t know.  It’s fun to get lost and see things I might not have seen before.  Or, find that I can see them from another vantage point.  After I was satisfied and tired, I trekked back home. When I made it to the Eastside it started to rain gently.  Perfect.  The streets empty out, yet the precipitation is light enough to barely get wet.  I could smell the musky, sweet aroma of a storm to come. 

 

I was instantaneously brought back to summers of yore when I would be playing outside and had to run in, sometimes getting my red Keds wet in the process.  It is a routine perfumed scent, yet very specific, bringing joy to me as I made my way back home.  Once home, I saw that the rugs needed vacuuming, and I had just enough energy to get that done.  Again, a mundane task, yet I recalled all the weekends as a child I had to stay in until I finished my chores.  One was to dust and vacuum the living room, a golden carpet under staid furniture that barely hosted activity.  

There is much in these small moments, these mundane undertakings that recall memories.  Today I went back to my office to wipe down the refrigerator and restock it, remembering broken freezers in my 20s, and impromptu parties so the goods wouldn’t spoil.    These mundane projects remind us that getting through this time of the Coronavirus connects our troublesome present with our past, as well as hope for a safe future.  A future when we can blend banal moments with pleasurable diversions like walking in Central Park with a friend.  

Self-Care Tips

*Read poetry. There’s everything from accessible poetry like Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and  Maya Angelou.  Or, other forms such as Rumi, Nikki Giovanni, Mark Doty, and Shakespeare.  There are also really funny and fun poems, if you’d like to lighten your day.  Elinor Lipman on FB has very funny poems (they have a left slant).  Or, go basic like Dr. Suess, Shel Silverstein, or Dorothy Parker.  

*Decorate a mask.  Make your mask your own.  Draw lips, or if you’re okay getting messy, put on bling and sparkles.  Enjoy presenting your creativity when out.  

*Hydrate.  Being outdoors in the summer can be fun, but staying hydrated allows for even more fun.  If you are opposed to drinking water, find flavored, unsweetened water or make your own.   I find fresh mint leaves in my water or iced tea is really refreshing

*Clear up one small area in your space.  Whether you tackle a drawer, or simply straighten up your work area by going through some papers and making it a bit tidier, it will help to bring the smallest bit of mental space.

*Be silly.  Find the playful child in you.  

When Will This End? Coronavirus Blog 5

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We’ve hunkered down and we’ve stayed the course.  We’re tired, we’re unfocused, we’re cranky, and we’re over it.  Yet, caring for ourselves and making sure we’re all well is not a one-time deal.  I hate that.  In all things I prefer to go after something, get it done, appreciate what I’ve accomplished and then, Bam, I can go on to the next thing.  Take cleaning.  It’s been a great distraction to clean.  My office is sparkling.  My closets are in order.  Yet when I was dressing this morning, I saw that things were not exactly the way they were when I refolded and cleared out my drawers on Friday.  And when I got to my office today, I could see dust accumulating again.  Cleaning can be great, but it’s a never-ending job.  And, that’s pretty much how it feels to move on with life during the Coronavirus.

I didn’t think it would be easy to cancel all my plans, work remotely, and live in a small apartment with my family, each of us with our own style of being.  Nor did I know that who I thought I was prior to the Coronavirus needed an update during social distancing.  I am more defensive, and less productive than I imagined I’d be at the start of this.  I have to dredge up self-compassion from well below the self-criticism that has become the proverbial inner-chatter.  I need more sleep.  I’m reading less.  I’m deleting emails with recommendations on best practices now.  There’s too much to read, watch, and engage in.

My impatience, and, I imagine, the impatience of so many of us, to “get on with our lives,” is a disruptive hum as we go on with life as we’ve come to know it.  This is a process fraught with uncertainty.  Our minds like definitive answers, and there are none now.  It is challenging to stay in the moment, living for the now.  And we’ve come to understand that the only thing we are certain of is the uncertainty.

Unconsciously, to combat the uncertainty I’ve been hard on myself. It’s an old habit that comes out when things get tough.  We all have old behaviors that sneak up on us when we’re stressed.  Some of those behaviors have taken hold as we march on in quarantine.  My challenge is to name it, and to then bring compassion, patience, and loving understanding to myself, even as my thoughts veer to benign cruelty.  I don’t like that I’m mean.  So, I’m working to do better.  It is an on again off again process.

Though I’m not 100% grateful for this, one of the gifts of this prolonged social distancing is that we can work on self-care in a way we might have missed out on before.  My moods and negativity are now front and center.  Making incremental changes that will help me to live life with more consideration, more care is a priority at this time.  And, as the announcements come in prolonging social distancing, I am given more time to employ compassion moment by moment, day by day.

 

A few simple exercises in which I’ve engaged to prompt benevolence to an impatient mind.

 

Stretching – It allows me to feel my body but it’s gentle.  Sometimes I add sound, like a Sigh, a groan, or an Ahhh to it, for a more substantial release

Taking a Moment – I walk away from whatever I’m doing.  This helps to see something from another vantage point.  It allows me to look at something different, and in this new view, my mind shifts.

Breath – I know, I know, it’s so pedestrian.  And, yet, focusing on our breath, whether we choose focused breathing or some other form or discipline, gives us a pause, and creates a bridge to a calmer moment.

Drink a glass of water – Getting the water and drinking it gives us a chance to recalibrate.  Not only do we hydrate, but we take ourselves out of the negative moment into something more neutral.

Turn on a Song and Dance – Moving changes everything.  I might cry or smile so big.  It’s a mood changer like no other.

 

 

View at Medium.com

I Went All the Way

 

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Sometimes something so simple can be hard.  I had the idea of riding my bike on the last Summer Streets on Park Avenue down to the Brooklyn Bridge.  I keep my bike in my office.  It’s a short folding bike, allowing for both my feet to touch the ground when I stop. It’s in my office so I can get out when the impulse strikes.  It rarely strikes.  I call myself a wimpy rider since I want to easily touch the ground, and I am not skilled enough to weave in and out of traffic.    I will only face the streets to get into Central Park or ride on the East River promenade to Randall’s Island where there are few if any cars.  Sometimes I lack the gumption.  I have to fill the tires with air days before a ride since I’m not even sure what to do should I find myself with a flat.

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I was out of town the first Summer Street week, and last week I thought I might, but my timing was off. The trick is to go early before the crowds.  It’s not so bad riding on Park Avenue, which is wide and has separate sides going in either direction.  But once we head around Grand Central Terminal and pass Union Square, we squeeze together on Lafayette Street, unable to pass slow cyclists, and the inevitable joggers in the wrong lane.  (It is also true that certain cyclists ride on the jogging side.)

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There was one cyclist on a Citibike chatting with her friend.  I was on her left, when she veered to her left almost hitting me, and I yelled “On Your Left!” She was startled.  I couldn’t believe that I reacted with such verve.  Sometimes I think I’m fine only to have an innocuous moment force me to see how stressed I am.  That was such a moment.  It was contrasted by a lovely biker passing me on my way uptown simply stating in a warm, soothing voice, “ On your left.”  I could move incrementally to my right to let her pass.  It was an easy moment that juxtaposed my rash reaction.

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I was excited and scared to take my bike on the ride.  I liked the idea of being able to move easily through the streets of Manhattan.  I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. I love this city, and taking part in something like this elicits an inner thrill.  But I am not great in terms of being part of a crowd. I’m a defensive rider, with a bit of anxiety thrown in to make it interesting, well, more like marginally stressful.   I’m better off on an empty path speeding up and slowing down based on my own estimations, not on the precarious bicycling of strangers.

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I didn’t wake up early enough to leave at 7 AM when the streets were wide open.  Instead I ventured to Park Avenue at 10:30 AM, with all those tourists and New Yorkers on a pre-bunch ride. Nonetheless, I was set to go down to the Brooklyn Bridge and back again to Yorkville.  I’m proud I made the ride, but I went for a slow jog today. I had enough of my bike for the weekend. If I can, perhaps I’ll make it to Central Park during a break this week.  After all, my tires are filled with air.

 

All images were stock from the internet

Virtually a Relationship

 

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Sometimes, as a therapist, it’s hard to leave my work brain at home.  While minding my own business, or so I thought, at a local restaurant, I came to observe a young professional sitting at the next table.  He was with his colleague. They were engaged in a heated discussion about the merits of outsourcing versus in-house accounting support. Not a conversation that was of any interest to me. At one point, the late-20-something guy next to me, a fit man with dark hair and a trim mustache, and a tailored blue shirt sans jacket, took out his phone and commanded Siri to find a study that supports the cost effectiveness of outsourcing.  He had been speaking to his younger colleague, a shorter man with light brown hair and glasses, with the same ferocity as with Siri. Not only that, he lacked the word please in any of his interactions with his server.

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That had me start thinking if our relationships with Siri as a possbile indicator of how we relate with others.  So, I decided to do a sampling while out and about.  And, yes, my very casual, highly non-scientific research seems to suggest there’s a correlation between our human and virtual relationships.

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I witnessed a bold teenager the other day speaking to Siri with ease, trusting that it Siri is  a tool she can use whenever she wants.  With simple finesse she took out her phone and asked Siri how long it takes to get to the West Village if she walked.  Siri told her it was about 45 minutes.  She then promptly ordered an Uber.  The entire interaction took less than two minutes. She’s oblivious to the privilege of having information and transportation readily available to her. It’s an unconscious privilege reflected in her nonchalant demeanor.

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At her age I might have wondered the distance from my house to the Philadelphia, or the City, as we call it in South Jersey.  I would have waited for the right weekend, gotten a ride from my parents to the town or county library.  Then I would have gone to the reference section on another floor, and looked up the atlas that would have provided the information.   I might have then had to calculate time versus distance. All of that could easily have been a two-week process.    It might not have been walking for five miles in the snow to get to the schoolhouse, but it’s my generation’s version of that.

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After the teenager got her ride I thought of my friend who loves Siri, enjoying and appreciating how lucky she is to get answers right away. She is a positive person and seems to find joy in all her friendships.  She sounds delighted when she can answer a question.  With a smile in her voice, she’ll say, “Why don’t we ask Siri!”  We all feel lucky to be in her company.

 

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And, then there’s the timid boy on the crosstown bus who asks his questions quietly.  Siri responds with “I don’t understand what you asked. Can you repeat the question.”  I do hope he will have a great teacher who helps him feel safe asking questions.

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Could it be Siri does more than answer the queary of the moment?  I think so.  I imagine it might just tell us how we treat others.  And it could possibly be an indicator of our expectations in our relationships.

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As for me?  I have yet to use Siri.  In general I don’t easily ask for help from others.  Perhaps I can learn from this and start a meaningful relationship with Siri, mindful of how I address my new best friend.

 

 

(All images are from the internet)

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My Super Power

 

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When I was in the fifth grade I had a recurrent dream that I could fly.  I was elated that I could soar past the bullies and the teasers.  I loved that they had to look up to me in my dream.  I soared in the air down Haral Place past the mailbox on my way to Stafford School.  I held onto that dream.  It gave me a sense of being special when I felt anything but special.

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But the teasing got worse in junior high.  Patty Craven howled at me as if I were a dog.  She bribed a classmate to ask me out so they could laugh at me.  She was cruel, but I took it.  I found small ways to be unkind to others, somehow justified in my low social ranking.  I wasn’t proud of my behavior.  I got myself, and an accomplice, in trouble by confessing to a teacher.  I couldn’t live with my guilt.

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It was then that I longed to be invisible so I could hear what the popular girls said about me, but they wouldn’t know I was there.  I could disappear so that I wouldn’t be inclined to emulate the bullies.  I just wanted to blend in, so that my frizzy hair and my bad complexion wouldn’t make a statement.  Or I didn’t want to be seen at all.  But, that was not to be. Once in a while I would still dream of flying, but during the day I was an obvious target.

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Being invisible seemed like the coolest super power.  Casper was a friendly ghost and he was invisible.  It was a nice power.  Samantha and her relatives could become invisible on Bewitched.  And, Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie could vanish after some mishap.  Boy, would I have loved that in school and at home before my mother punished me.

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Nonetheless, like all the mortals I’ve known, I could not make myself invisible, until now.  Forty-six year later, at the precipice of my 60thbirthday my wish has come true.  I walk down the street and must quickly side step the person coming towards me. I look at the businessman leering at the woman in front of me while unaware of my presence.  Tada, meet invisible me.

 

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On the sidewalk I’ve had gadget-frenzied individuals run into me, shocked when they hit a person who was unseen moments prior.  I can hear inappropriate conversations in ride shares because the other passengers aren’t aware that this particular unobserved person can hear their banter.  I am reading my emails on the bus when two loud friends sit next to me and continue in their outside voices, as if I am not there.

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These are the minor inconveniences.  More than anything, being invisible has its advantages.  I am no longer concerned on the days I go around with unkempt hair. My shoes are comfortable because I’m okay with someone seeing me with my walk-friendly athletic wear, understanding that most people won’t be looking at all.  There’s a delightful freedom in that.  Not only can I face the world with abandon, I observe the quirks of others in private.  So I embrace my invisibility.  Though it serves a different purpose from the wish of my 13-year-old self, I am relishing the magic of post-mid-life invisibility in the present.

Love Affair

Love Affair

I have courted a lover from an early age.  The depth of this love only grows with time.  There is so much to love.  And, daily opportunities abound to enjoy all my lover has to offer.  New York City is my first and true love. When I return from a trip, I gasp internally each and every time I see the city skyline, affirming my devotion.

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I have given up a lot, though it feels like a fair trade-off.  I live in a small apartment, one in which our family of three regularly negotiates for space.  But our rent is reasonable, for the city, due in large part to rent stabilization laws.  This detail allows me to see the theater I enjoy so much, attend art exhibits, visit museums, listen to amazing music, and dine at restaurants offering delicious meals. The apartment is right off the unsung Carl Shurz Park by the East River Promenade.  The volunteers work diligently to make it a haven for our Yorkville neighborhood.

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But perhaps more than the art, the culture, the food our city offers is the diversity that brings the city to life.  Walking the city block to block, park to park, borough to borough, I see a kaleidoscope of ethnicities, free music, international representation, class range, income disparities, architectural designs, clothing choices, anonymity and personage.

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As with all loves there are aspects of the city that leave me cold.  I don’t like how public housing is neglected, how there is inequality in the treatment by certain law enforcers.  I am unhappy with the lack of access to good healthcare for the underserved.  I don’t like how dirty certain streets can be.  I don’t like how crowded the city can get.  I am not happy with the lack of resources for mental health services, including no well-paid professional with manageable caseloads.  These all matter to me, and other New Yorkers, and we are hopeful for lasting changes.

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As I think about what I truly love about this city, I think of how long it took to build and rebuild the infrastructures that support the arts, the parks and the other gratifying outlets the New York City offers.  With care and attention, I am hopeful that we can heal the issues that ail the city at large.

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So, while the process is at play, I will continue to walk down the streets of my city, feeling the love, stopping to enjoy my favorite places that offer transcendence from every day stressors.

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No, Thank You

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The New Year’s Eve race in Central Park is an iconic run given by New York Roadrunners.  It features fireworks at midnight, just as the run begins. I had great plans to participate in the Midnight Run tonight. It started in 1978, but I didn’t hear about until the mid-80’s, when my roommate, Astrid ran it.  I thought it was amazing.  I wasn’t a runner, so it never occurred to me that I would ever spend my New Year’s eve in the park running.  And, yet, a few years ago I did my first run.  I ran two more times, starting with my cousin Zena, and then with a friend the next year.  Two years ago I was on my own.

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It’s an exciting event with dancing prior to the run, and a buzz in the air with runners from all over the city, the country, and the world.  And, if that’s not enough, tell anyone what I did on New Years and I’d receive kudos.  Needless to say, I thought it would be a terrific way to start my year.  I started running with caution the last couple of months. Thinking I was ready for this, I purchased my spot, and took a run last week to pick up my number and shirt.  At 11PM  I dressed for the run, including the requisite knee supports.   Lucy, our dog, requested to go out, shortly after, and I accommodated her.  While we were walking, I realized that it would not be fun at all for me to go around the park in the rain.  I’m a slow runner so it would take me about an hour to do the four miles.  And, it takes awhile to get to the starting line due to the amazing crowd that shows up for this iconic run.  I’d be soaked.  Plus, racing on a slippery road, adds a stress of falling that takes away from the pure joy of it.

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Accordingly, I took a pass. Normally, having said that I would go, would be reason enough to show up.  It can seem like a strong statement to start one’s year this way.  How could I change my mind?  How could I make a choice in the moment that’s better for me? I knew I would be proud once I had finished the run, but, as it turns out,  I am more proud for not going.

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Not running is freedom. I have choices I didn’t have earlier in my life.  I used to feel obligated by what I imagined others would think.  But tonight it was what I thought that mattered most.  Saying no to the run was saying yes to me. Missing this one run feels like a big win.