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New York, New York - not so good that it can't learn from Ireland

Rachel White

Being Irish in New York during the pandemic, home has never felt so far away, writes Rachel White


Rachel White in Times Square, New York, before the pandemic

Rachel White in Times Square, New York, before the pandemic

Rachel White in Times Square, New York, before the pandemic

The first question I am asked when I meet people back home is never about me. It's always "How's New York?" As if the city were a living thing with its own moods.

When I moved here in August 2012, I was instantly seduced by the pace of the place. The crowds, the heat, the immediacy.

I found a job and a place to live within a week of arriving. Two months later, Hurricane Sandy hit. I had yet to make friends and only found out about it when my roommate told me to get batteries and bottled water because she wasn't sharing any of her precious supplies.

That was probably the first time I saw a supermarket stripped bare. It seemed comical, like something out of a movie. I laughed, not taking any of it seriously.

If all else failed, I could always go home.

Now, eight years later, I have built a life for myself. I met my husband and accumulated pets, I make the most of the museums and the concerts, trawling through lists of the best pizza places and going out of my way to find tiny ramen spots.

The city has seen terrorist attacks, storms so severe they shut down the subway, power outages and an outbreak of distemper in the park's raccoon population. I manage to get home once or twice a year, taking comfort that although I have taken on many of the traits of a New Yorker, I can be in Dublin in a few hours if needs be.

The first time my adopted nonchalance cracked was some time towards the start of March, when I caught myself struggling to carry a 20lb bag of rice home from the supermarket.

New Yorkers have a reputation of banding together in times of crisis and that has held true for the most part during this pandemic.

There are still joggers and dog walkers clogging the streets, the man who cycles around the park with a football balanced on his head is still there most days, singing at the top of his lungs - but everything else that makes the city what it is has ground to a halt.

These days, it is my Irish community that is getting me through.

The ability to crack jokes and make light of the dire circumstances in which we find ourselves is my bright spot in the day.

I go on socially distant walks where we compare the frequency of sirens and how many loo rolls we have left. We talk about the strangeness of this new reality in which Ireland is the shining example of strong leadership, reliable government and civic obedience - while New York lags far behind.

When I left Ireland, it was on the heels of the last recession. Everyone was complaining about the failures of the Dail to prevent the flight of young people.

I fear the depression that is coming will do the same to New York.

The many different cultures, the restaurants, the carousel of faces and languages and ideas that make you feel like you're watching the world go round have all been suspended for now.

Home has never felt so far away, not knowing when I'll be able to see my family. I have always been proud to be Irish, but I never thought it would be for these reasons.

The way that the country has come together gives me faith in humanity.

I hope New Yorkers will do the same.

Sunday Independent