Reflections from My Fire Escape in Brooklyn

Sitting on the east-facing fire escape this morning, the idea was to get a little sun on my face, watch the birds, appreciate the trees blossoming into leaves and flowers. I saw the neighborhood street cat, fat and gray-furred running after prey. The sun was indeed lovely and warming. I drank green tea and listened to birds … and then started focusing on the people going about their Saturday morning lives four stories below. No one looks wealthy in my neighborhood, just regular working folks live around here, mostly black and brown folks. Most are wearing masks. I focused on a mother and son. Mom, in a bright pink hoodie, masked and gloved, wheeled a cart full of laundry bags from across the avenue and stood in front of the building opposite my perch. She was joined by a young man I assumed to be her son, helping her out with her task, and he, also wearing a mask, pantomimed rubbing his hands together, asking for hand sanitizer, which she provided. He rubbed his hands with the alcohol based product she offered and I thought, wow, ordinary people are now performing medical-level cleansing of their hands just as a natural matter of course. Once his hands were germ-free; virus-free, they continued on their way, wheeling the cart full of laundry bags to … somewhere. And then another man walked by, wheeling a grocery cart laden with extra-large blue plastic recycling bags filled with cans and bottles. He was doing what I imagined was his daily work, collecting these redeemables to provide his income. I imagined a family at home relying on his foraging skills, and sent him a little blessing for health and a good income today. He was also wearing a mask. A young couple walking their dogs also wore masks as they strode purposefully through the scene. A couple of guys, masked also, and dressed for ‘blue-collar’ type work got in a truck, and drove away. Another similarly dressed and masked guy did the same. A middle aged lady in a mask went out of her way to be six feet from two guys who were walking toward her, not rude, just self-protective. I sat for about half an hour, my attention caught by the people I was watching. The thought came to me that all of these people, not rich, not magazine-beautiful, not hashtag blessed with fame or fortune, not especially special except to their loved ones, all these people were carefully protecting their own lives and those of others around them. They all valued being alive and well. They held their ordinary lives to be valuable, to be cherished, and protected. And I thought of the politicians and heads of corporate empires at the “top” of society, so far away from this early morning Brooklyn street scene. I thought of how so many of these people, mostly white and rich, mostly far from New York, have been saying lately that ordinary human lives are expendable and less important than getting the economy going again. Ordinary human lives like these I saw before me this morning. These beings cherishing and protecting their aliveness. I crawled back through the window into my living room filled with care for all these folks I had seen going about their business on the Brooklyn street, under the trees, with the birds singing all around, and the cat hunting. I am filled with honor for their lives lived without riches and power but with care and relationship and work and effort and love, without means but with heart, wearing masks and gloves, cherishing and protecting their valued lives.

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