In E.B. White’s classic little volume Here is New York, he writes, “New York is the concentrate of art and commerce and sport and religion and entertainment and finance, bringing to a single compact area the gladiator, the evangelist, the promoter, the actor, the trader and the merchant.”
As any first-time visitor about their plans for a trip to New York, the will most probably tick off a list of familiar landmarks—Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square, Yankee Stadium, Washington Square Park, the Metropolitan Museum, and the like. Since the 9-11 attacks, many will also pay tribute to the lives lost and the demolition of the Twin Towers by visiting the 9-11 Memorial and Freedom Tower.
But now with this pandemic, some of our most cherished landmarks have become locations for field hospitals. For better or worse, the City will most likely never be the same. In a crowded city of many millions of people stacked tightly upon each other, Central Park has always been everyone’s back yard. With iconic bridges and rolling fields, this creation of Frederick Law Olmstead is literally the crown jewel of Manhattan. Now, in the northern fields of the Park, near the world-class Mount Sinai Hospital, the Samaritan’s Purse charity has erected a tents as field hospitals for Covid-19 patients, forever changing the landscape in our mind.
I was stunned a couple of days ago when I learned that during Holy Week for Christians, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, on the Upper West Side, would also become an infirmary for those struck down by Covid-19. For those of you who haven’t visited should be on anyone’s “NYC Must See list.” It is the largest Gothic Cathedral and seat of the Episcopal Bishop. Although connected with the Anglican tradition, it is open and welcoming to all faith and intellectual traditions. The building’s construction started in 1892 and features stunning architecture and has been designated by the NYC Landmarks Commission as well as the Literary Landmarks Commission. The range of cultural, intellectual, and spiritual programming at this institution is breathtaking. And to think of it opened up to care for the sick could not be a more appropriate representation of the mercy of Jesus during the Easter Season.
It is true that New Yorkers will not be the same once this pandemic has burned out and ceased to be the center of our daily lives. And our most cherished municipal landmarks and locations will also be changed, for the good.