You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry, goes William Bell’s soul classic, and East Hampton residents, like others across the world, have awakened to how much and how easily things are taken for granted.
But for many, this strange and uncertain reality has brought other awakenings. In learning to cope with isolation and the shutdown of public assembly and commercial activity amid a health emergency, many profess a new appreciation for life and its myriad joys. Some find humor in our predicament. Others feel a stronger sense of spirituality. In a touching irony of this moment, social distancing brings a new closeness.
“My sense of community, the actual interconnectedness we-are-all-in-the-boat-together feeling, is stronger, even though casual hugs and gabfests over coffee are disrupted,” said Rameshwar Das of Springs. “Hearing the spring peepers when I walk the dog in the evening reminds me Mama Nature is still operating the main program. There will be spring in the Springs.”
“There are countless trails just a brief walk from my home, miles of woods for myself, my partner, and my small pack of dogs to enjoy,” said Cynthia Daniels of Northwest Woods. “The beaches and bays sparkle in blissful ignorance of the human condition, just as they always have, and barring a different sort of comet, always will.”
Dorothy Dai-en Friedman, sensei at Ocean Zendo in Bridgehampton, reported “gratitude for spring’s rebirth, and watching life emerge in its own shape and time; ah, the beauty of it all, on its own, weeds, plantings, all of it, growing energy in its own time. Gratitude for the waters surrounding us all about, from ocean to lake to ponds, and the air that abounds.”
Dianne Benson of East Hampton Village said that “there is nothing good about the contagion nor about the climate change that has afforded East Hampton a month-early spring. But together — and as I am a dig-in gardener — their collusion has afforded me unexpected treasured hours to weed and prune and coddle my precious plants and trees. Gardening as salvation, you might say.”
Lena Tabori of East Hampton is finding meaning in things large and small, near and far. She is “thinking deeply about all of those I love and telling them, sometimes with emails containing small moments of humor or beauty,” such as a YouTube video of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in a virtual collective performance, each player in his or her own space. She is working on a website devoted to climate change “and worrying about my Indian developer, who is now stuck in Kolkata.” India’s prime minister ordered a complete lockdown of the country’s 1.3 billion inhabitants on Tuesday, and the website developer cannot return home to Delhi.
She relayed the story her husband, who works at a nursing home in Riverhead, brought home on Monday, of “the florist dividing all of his flowers into vases and delivering them to the nursing home.”
Some relish the gift of time. “Get up every morning, about an hour later than usual, check the stock market futures, throw up, and dress in my workout clothes,” is how the day begins for Mark Ginsberg of Springs. “Go for a long walk. Come home and try some free weights and stretching until I have sufficiently damaged my musculature.”
Reading on his Kindle may dominate the rest of the day, and Mr. Ginsberg credits the Libby app for downloading e-books and audiobooks from libraries. “Without the Libby app and the East Hampton Library, I would be totally lost.” Also, “Avoiding, at all costs, CNN, CNBC, and MSNBC,” he added. Fox News “has been forever excised from my programming.”
“My relationship to time has altered greatly,” Ms. Friedman said. “For years I have attempted to slow down, and now circumstances have contributed greatly to this conscious process. It allows all
my senses to become more alive, and present.”
“There’s an old saying, ‘Move a muscle, change a thought,’ and I’m a true believer,” said Colin Ambrose of East Hampton. “This day brought a ray of sunlight, so my muscles are dedicated to painting.” He planned to work on a sign for his restaurant Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor and a mural in his yard. “It’s like a mosaic, and I’ve chosen green, gray, rust, blue, and black to bring colors of the sea into my garden. Now for the hard part: I’ll be outlining the colorful spots with a whitewash. Might have been easier to do the other way around. I’m grateful for the challenge.”
Ms. Daniels also finds meaning in work. As a music producer and recording engineer, her MonkMusic Studios allows separation — physical as well as acoustic — between herself and clients. “I disinfect before and after each person records, I open the outer doors to the bright sun and cleansing air, and the show goes on. Now more than ever, we need content for entertainment, and I plan to be available to help that move along.”
Diana Walker of Amagansett is feeling “a level of gratitude to those who deem access to alcoholic beverages an essential service.” She is also “so grateful to the new funders who are subsidizing East End for Opportunity’s partnership with the Springs Food Pantry!”
“An eternal optimist” is how elected officials from different generations described themselves. For Councilman David Lys of Springs, a silver lining to this moment is “the consistency of family dinner time.” While he and his wife, Rachel, try to prioritize dinner with their four daughters, in normal times one or the other is often at a professional obligation in the evening. “Family dinners recently have been full of discussion on world topics, laughter with each other, and, of course, ice cream. In the end, after every dinner, each member of my family of six has had a chance to decompress and cope.”
Former East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. called the pandemic “a test of our mettle as a society” and “a test of our social interface with one another. Hopefully, it will bring us back a little more to where we’re willing to reach out to our neighbor, our family.” He is focused on his family’s comfort and safety, he said, and offered this advice: “Take it one day at a time, listen to medical professionals, and heed what they have to say.”
While she admits to wavering between edginess and depression on bad days, Ms. Daniels said, “On a good day, I think this is the best thing that ever happened to any of us: nothing but time to be conscious of every step, every breath, every touch, as it could mean life or death. The simple pleasures and conveniences become God’s greatest gifts: basic needs of food, shelter, and comfort of home, family, and pets met to perfection. My arms and legs and lungs working to capacity. So many more chances to care for friends and to appreciate relationships new and forgotten.”