We just don’t know.
As I write, we do not know how many will die. We do not know when, if ever, a vaccine will be available. We do not know when stay-at-home restrictions will end. We do not know if the economy is in the early stages of a depression or has the potential for a postwar-style bounce. We do not know when sports will resume, when movie theaters will open or when we can go to bars again.
What we do know is that we’re grateful for everyday heroes: our healthcare workers risking their lives to save other lives; our police, fire, transportation and municipal workers keeping the essential components of our society intact; and workers up and down the proverbial food chain who are keeping us fed.
And we know that culture matters, now more than ever.
We have a tendency to feel guilty about personal interests and pleasures when people are dying. It has always been fashionable in some quarters to trivialize the arts. The federal government, in responding to this crisis, has so far ponied up a relative pittance to save this entire industry, less than four times what it gave a single steakhouse chain. But while our physical health is paramount, our mental health is moored in large part to our access to culture. How much more tolerable is this epic quarantine because we can stream movies and thousand of episodic shows on demand from our couches? How much more manageable are our lives because of books? How much pleasure do we find in taking a break from cooking at home by ordering a meal from one of our city’s abundance of creative restaurants? How much does it help to see art on our walls or to take an online visit to a gallery, a museum or an artist’s studio?
Over the past few weeks, the disturbingly empty streets of the Loop have been serenaded by the sound of soulful-voiced Andrew David belting out his poignant version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to an audience of steel and glass and pigeons.
Over the last few weeks, those of us in South Loop buildings as well as other neighborhoods have met each night at our windows at 8pm to sing familiar songs together and shine lights outward in an act of community and catharsis in thanks for the frontline workers who are keeping us safe. The songs, whether opera favorites sung from Italian balconies or the pop hits sung by our neighbors, are connective tissue in these moments.
Does this matter? Here’s a couple of responses from Facebook:
“Hi everyone! Nurse here-I wanted to say thank you to all the people flashing their lights in their windows around 8pm (nightly?). … I just so happen to be driving down Lake Shore Drive at around that time whenever I come home from work… It puts a smile on my face every time and I can feel your support from afar ?? thank you!”
“To my neighbors at Michigan and 13th who played “Landslide” after “Imagine,” thank you for the unexpected gift. My twin died three weeks ago today and that was one of her favorite songs. We can’t have a proper burial until who knows when. I would have taken a picture but was crying too hard. So thank you.”
Yes, culture matters. Now more than ever.
And a personal thanks to David Alvarado who concludes his long-running “Life is Beautiful” comics story with us this month. We look forward to seeing it in book form at some point and wish him well in the future.
Look for Newcity’s May 2020 print edition at over 1000 Chicago-area locations this week or subscribe to the print edition at newcity.com/subscribe.
In this issue: