A week into my coronavirus self-isolation, I looked out my 15th-floor apartment window and saw something that surprised and delighted me: a heart and the word “y’all” made from dozens of white Post-it notes, stuck on the window of an apartment across from mine. In that moment, the 60 or so feet of Eighth Avenue that separated my building from the one across the street seemed to shrink, at least a little.
Despite—or perhaps because of—the near-suffocating density of New York City, we generally live atomized lives, barely sparing a glance at passersby in a busy street or exchanging a word of greeting with our next-door neighbors. In many ways, the coronavirus outbreak has forced us even more into the individual bubbles we’ve created around ourselves. We’re told to stay six feet apart from others, and most of us hardly leave the safety of our own apartments, except to throw out the garbage or buy necessities.
But this global pandemic, as frightening and disruptive as it is, also seems to have brought our community closer—in spirit, since physical closeness clearly isn’t an option. Strangers, whom I’d never spoken with and whose living rooms I can look into from mine, have become a sort of lifeline, tethering me to a social world that’s been put on pause for now.
After I saw the first note, more Post-its appeared on windows in the days that followed. “Hi!” someone wrote, accompanied with a happy smile. Another message was simply “? #,” which I guessed was an attempt at getting the number of someone who lived above me. “Hi I am Donna,” someone else posted. Donna (if that is indeed her real name) had also spelled out “let,” but she might’ve run out of Post-its, because she never finished the sentence.
I wonder whether people in my building are responding in kind. I haven’t been to the other side of the street since I began staying at home. When I do venture outside, it’s only to make quick beelines to the grocery store right around the corner. But, when this is over, I’m going to cross the road and look up—trying not to bump into any busy New Yorkers hurrying past—and, maybe, I’ll find messages of humanity, captured in Post-it notes.