by Yuliana Kim-Grant
I stood in a line that snaked down two blocks of the South Bronx, cursing myself for not realizing that the line would be this long and for not being prepared with the basic necessities to endure what would be a long wait. As I stood under the blistering sun, I couldn’t help but be envious of those who had brought portable lawn chairs, and beyond envious of those who had enough foresight to bring an umbrella for protection from the sun. After the first hour, I plopped down on the dirty sidewalk, uncaring about the dirt, just tired of standing. I had brought a sandwich, assuming the wait would be just long enough where sustenance would be needed. I hadn’t thought the water bottle I had brought would be finished into hour four and my phone battery on its last legs at hour six. For some reason I had assumed the wait would be indoors and that I would have access to an outlet. But, such assumptions were in the life pre-Covid life. The reason for me standing under the hot July sun in the South Bronx was because of Covid and my inadvertent exposure to the virus. When the pandemic struck in March, NYC was the epicenter for the entire world. As a New Yorker I experienced the fear of seeing the empty shelves in Fairway, my heart dropping as another blaring siren of an ambulance pierced the eerie quiet outside, and the hourly updates of the ticking number of cases and deaths. With the exception of our weekly trip to Trader Joe’s and the Korean Market and a morning walk in the park, my husband, son, and I spent hours upon hours of the day inside our apartment quarantining.
In spite of all the precautions my family and I had undertaken, the intervening months did chip away at our vigilance, especially as NYC seemed to be managing the epidemic while the epidemic raged elsewhere. It was as the city slowly started relaxing the wartime-like restrictions that I had thought finally hosting the bridal shower for a friend would be feasible. I had been in correspondence with my fellow co-hostesses and the bride and felt confident in their responsibility in handling themselves during the crisis. The shower was small, as you can imagine, with most invited guests joining via Zoom or sending in recorded videos. The one guest who was brave enough to come was unknown to me and my fellow hostesses. After the event, my husband and I sanitized all the surfaces in our apartment since we did that whenever any of us had been outside after washing our hands. You can imagine my shock in receiving a text message two days later from the one guest that was not part of the wedding party informing all of us that the COVID test she had taken days ago had come back positive. The punchline to the text message was her reassurance that she felt fine. The firestorm of emotions that pummeled into me and through me is visceral to this day. After informing my husband and son and apologizing for all of this, I went into crisis-management mode of making plans for my son and me to get tested the very next day. I won’t go into the frustration and futility of a process in which results from the test take seven to ten days. I can tell you that the results from that first test did not arrive until fourteen days later. After taking that first test and realizing that the result would take days to be provided, I learned rapid tests were administered in a few locations in NYC, for whatever reason, mainly in the South Bronx, which is why I was waiting in that line under that hot sun. As I sat on that sidewalk, trying to stay positive about the outcome, wishing for a chair and an umbrella, I had time to reflect on how this person could have thought it was ok to risk exposing strangers by coming to the shower. Was there some hubris on her part to believe she was impervious and not exposed? What compelled her to take a test in the first place? More important, how could she think it was acceptable for her to come, given the uncertainty of the test result hanging out in space? Seven and a half hours later, I walked out of the squat, nondescript building to the descending late afternoon sun with the negative test result in my hand. As relieved as I was to know I had not been exposed and likely not exposed my family, I continued to grapple with my disappointment with the poor decision-making, and, in my opinion, the thoughtlessness of the person who had exposed six others to this virus that is dangerous as far as knowing how any one person’s body will succumb to it. As I reflected upon what this virus has done in the big ways of upending all the norms of everyday life, not to mention the havoc and destruction on so many families and their lives and livelihoods, I thought about how this moment has turned the mirror toward the less obvious aspects of human nature, the parts that we want unseen by the rest of the world. This moment feels as if each of us is standing in front of a funny mirror at a carnival, our body and face distorted; what seems like a caricature of the normal “picture” we held in our own head is perhaps more than the real distortion. All the truths we had believed about ourselves, perhaps now revealed as aspirational than fact. In my indignation about the guest who potentially had infected six others, I wanted to believe I would not have attended if I were waiting for a test result. But, in truth, I had to wonder what I would have done in the same situation. I wanted to believe I would have made the less selfish decision and stayed home, in spite of the desperate desire to be with people after so many months of being cooped up, but it’s hard to believe that with absolute certainty. I had thought myself as someone who hoped to see the good in people first; now I found myself viewing everyone, stranger or friend, with new, suspicious eyes, questioning their motives and their judgments. I had thought of myself as someone without cynicism, but I found myself questioning the veracity of any sliver of positive news as being wholly truthful. All the teachings of yoga about surrendering in the face of things we can’t control and finding peace in that surrender, a principle I had used as a guide, sometimes holding onto it as if it were a buoy in choppy waters, now felt like the aphorisms of those living in a land where fairies flew overhead. When I faced these unsettling revelations about how I was responding to this crisis, I couldn’t help but wonder how far below the surface these characteristics had been all this time. Was it in the face of such a life-altering, world-altering catastrophe that these aspects of myself finally emerged from the hidden shadows, reminding me of my own three-dimensionality and complexity? I wish I could say that this exposure to Covid was my one and only, but my family endured another scary moment just a couple of weeks later. At this point, I feel like an old hand in receiving the scary news and dealing with the stressful days that follow. I’m going to assume that as we continue to see more cases, the virus jumping state borders as easily as a raging wildfire jumping a freeway to quench its thirst, my family and I may have more of these near brushes, or worse, one of us will succumb to the virus itself. Being forced to face some unpretty hard truths about the potential for darkness in our own nature can bring a multitude of responses—from deflection, denial, or a real reckoning to a coming-to-Jesus moment. I can’t say I experienced any one of these entirely; instead, perhaps a combination, as I came to understand that suspicion, cynicism, and fearfulness is rational in the face of so much unknown about this virus and, in truth, this crisis and the world it will leave behind once we are able to find a way to control it. That my understanding of my own humanity, like the world’s humanity, was as fragile, easily affected, and altered when in the face of such dramatic upheaval.
Yuliana is a yoga teacher, author, wife, and mother. Find out more about her at https://www.yulianakimgrant.com.
Warrior Flow Insiders is a series highlighting leaders and change agents in yoga, movement, mindfulness, mental health, social justice, and community outreach. Subscribe to Warrior Flow to receive future Insider profiles and other news from Warrior Flow TV. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Warrior Flow TV offers hundreds of classes including vinyasa yoga, meditation, HIIT, Pilates, barre, full-body workouts, yin yoga, restorative yoga, and much more, all for one low monthly or annual subscription fee. And a portion of every subscription supports The Warrior Flow Foundation. Click here to learn more.