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The Balance of Nature

When I stepped out of the house for my morning walk, I noticed that the trees where once throbbed with the chorus of robins, jays, and squirrels were quiet. What happened? They would always be here scampering for food. You see, every morning, a man in his fifties would walk by that area and scatter bird seeds and breadcrumbs there. I wondered what had become of that person’s ritual. Did his work schedule change because of the pandemic? Had he retired? Did he move out of New York?

The silence of the trees worries me. The absence of birds could be part of a larger canvas -- the larger problem of environmental devastation: our rampant deforestation, the destruction of wild habitats, the slaughter of endangered animals, the seas of plastic and floating garbage stretching miles and miles. For the first time, I miss the sound of the birds. I do not like the silence. It reminds me of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

My anxiety rises when, in the next block, I notice that my friend Oscar is not in his usual area collecting empty cans and bottles. Instead I see a middle-aged lady pulling a shopping cart full of empty water bottles. I calm myself down: maybe I don’t see Oscar because I just changed my walking ritual due to the pandemic. I decided to do it earlier today. The earlier I did my morning walk the less people I’d encounter. My doctor told me that the less people you were exposed to, the safer you’d be.

“I hope Oscar is fine,” I tell myself, as I drop the plastic bag of empty water bottles into a recycling bin nearby. Oscar works part time as a food delivery person for a restaurant in Manhattan. He could be a full-time delivery person now since many restaurants have concentrated on food deliveries because restaurants in New York are still closed for indoor dining.

I continue walking and take a different route I have not taken for some time. I notice that the area where once would assemble stray cats is empty. I’d always encounter at least two stray cats whenever I’d take this route. This time there isn’t any. Too, I’d often see a lady feeding the cats. Is she still around? Where is she? It’s amazing how we’ve not come to appreciate this working relationship between humans and animals -- until this pandemic -- how our lives are inextricably intertwined. Animals need our care, but animals care for us as well. And I’m not just referring to the animal shelters and adoption centers running out of them since this pandemic started. Or the seeing-eye dogs and the comfort animals for the disabled. I am referring to the many endangered species we continue to kill to extinction. Some sperm whales and dolphins, for example, have brain capacities much larger than those of ours. If we continue to slaughter them to extinction, we may be destroying the very animals that are the most helpful for our human survival.

Although this pandemic has literally brought our lives to a halt, many changes continue to take place daily. My neighbors Natalie and Denise along with their pet poodle Peanut have just bought a house in a 5-acre property in upstate New York – the relatively safer place, they said, at this time. My friend Arthur, his wife Linda, and their two kids have moved from Uptown Manhattan to the suburb of Huntington, NY in Long Island, about 45 minutes away. They gave the same reason. Both work from home anyway and they decided to rent a house away from the crowded city. In fact, a huge mass of other city dwellers have moved to the suburbs just to get away from the virus. This reminds me of the Great Plague of 1665 when Londoners left their city and took refuge in the country.

So far, New York City has been quite successful in dealing with the pandemic. If many are still moving out, it is for some other reasons, particularly the protests and the rising crime situation in the city.

Meanwhile, an update: A few months ago New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic, and Queens (where I live) was what was described as the epicenter of the epicenter. By the grace of God everything has turned around. As I write this, it is now an oasis in a country besieged by the pandemic.

As I have always said, nothing is permanent. There will be a vaccine soon, I am quite sure of that, again by the grace of God. People will start returning to this city that never sleeps, and New York City -- we’ll make a brand new start of it, just like the old Sinatra song.

Suddenly I realize that today is Sunday.

One of the few changes I’m still trying to adjust to is Sunday Service online. In about three hours we will have an online service, so I pass by the neighborhood store for some bread and grape juice for communion. I am now by my doorstep after my 30-minute walk. It is 6:42am and everyone is still asleep except my pet cat Kitkat who meets me at the door. It’s a daily ritual. If it were another person, she would not even go near the door. She is entitled and acts it. Street cats usually live between five and seven years. Kitkat is now twelve. Kitkat reminds me again of how intertwined humans and animals are. Yes, she depends on me for food and shelter, but I certainly depend on her too. She brings a lot of laughter in our home because of her playfulness and unpredictable sassiness. So she meets me at the door and just stares at me as I walk to the kitchen to wash my hands. And then she goes back to her nap.

I set aside the bread and grape juice for morning service. I cannot help worrying about the silent trees outside the house.

“What’s for breakfast, Dad?” It’s my son’s usual way of saying good morning, his mock playful yell from upstairs.

After telling him I’ll start cooking soon, I sit down to steal a couple more minutes of silence. I am quickly interrupted by the sounds of my wife’s favorite Korean teleserye humming from my bedroom – her usual way of starting the day.

I am done cooking but they are not downstairs yet. So I step out of the house to do some deep breathing. I glance at my watch. I was a bit too early this morning. This time it’s my usual walking schedule right now. From beyond my house, the trees, as if on cue, are again throbbing with the chorus of robins, jays, and squirrels.

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