Communities, newspapers need each other
POETRY FROM READERS
Solace at the Cemetery: Three Days Amidst the Pandemic
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COURIER LIFE, APRIL 17-23, 2020 17
From afar, the COVID-19
pandemic is generating
news of such terrifying
magnitude that it is nearly too
overwhelming to comprehend.
Millions are suffering and
thousands are dying. Economies
are collapsing. The world
seems out of control.
That’s the big picture, which
you can learn about from innumerable
print, web and broadcast
But it’s in the pages of local
newspapers that this terrible
news hits home.
Through stories of sickness
and of death, of brave healthcare
workers and struggling
small business owners, local
journalists are documenting
In hard-hit New York City,
dozens of local newspapers
are chronicling the challenges
neighborhood by neighborhood.
As the virus spreads beyond
metropolitan New York,
the chronicling extends, paper
In each, above all are the
stories of the lives that have
been lost, touching tributes to
much loved grandfathers and
grandmothers, principals and
store clerks, police offi cers and
Next come the stories of
isolation and loss as the life of
a community is put on hold:
Funerals, weddings, Little
League baseball, high school
proms, senior citizen trips and
college graduations. The list
goes on and on.
Finally come are the tales
of generosity and hope, of thousands
of rainbows hung in windows
and drawn in chalk on
sidewalks, of food drives for the
affl icted, of music and art and
of the million small kindnesses
of one person to another.
Years from now, these stories
will be part of the historical
record of this pandemic.
Right now, however, they serve
a far greater purpose: They are
helping communities come together
to mourn, to support
and to hope. To eventually go
forward and heal, we fi rst need
to understand what is happening
to the people we know and
the businesses we rely on.
Local newspapers are also
where many stories begin.
Here you’ll learn about upstate
dairy farmers forced to dump
milk, how Finger Lakes wineries
are adapting to the shutdown,
the slow startup to the
federal small business stimulus
program on the East End
of Long Island, the re-tooling
of a Granville slate company
to make face shields for healthcare
workers and efforts to
safeguard our food supply
chain by protecting farmland.
These are the stories that
set local newspapers apart
from anything you’ll see and
read via bigger outlets. Each
paper is telling its community’s
unique set of stories about
death and heroism and struggle.
And for communities in
crisis, this personalization is
key to grappling with this pandemic.
Local newspapers care – always
have and always will. It’s
what sets them apart from all
other media, even Facebook.
They will be at the zoning
board meeting you care about,
at your Fourth of July parade
and your high school graduation.
They will write about the
kindergarten class trip to the
pumpkin farm as well as the
They’ve been around so
long it’s easy to take them for
granted. But they are in danger,
especially now that local businesses
that provide crucial advertising
revenue have closed.
There’s a lot of news you
can access for free. Many local
newspapers have even temporarily
dropped their paywalls
on their virus-related content.
The gesture refl ects their mission
to go above and beyond to
serve their communities in a
time of crisis.
But news really isn’t free.
It’s costly to produce. Reporters,
printers, advertising representatives
and support staff deserve
and need a paycheck for
the work they do. To do that,
newspapers need the people in
those Fourth of July parades
and at those school board meetings
to subscribe. Now, more
than ever, they need their communities.
Judy Patrick is vice president
of editorial development
at the New York Press Association.
I have come to Greenwood Cemetery
Seeking solace. I like to get lost here.
If you walk in deep enough, the buildings
Disappear and you can be by yourself
For a long time. The robins are back.
The warblers are back. The vibrant pink
Magnolia and cherry trees are back.
I sit on a bench listening to a warbler
Singing her song. But then the sirens
Pierce the air, breaking my reverie,
And I start heading toward the front gate.
It is a raw March morning, but others
Are here as well. On sunny days they come
Streaming in. Parents with strollers. Some bring
Their children to play at the pondside.
The kids throw sticks in the water and
Chase each other around. I wonder
If they know why they are here.
And now I come upon the graves of the
Prentiss brothers who fought on opposite sides
In the Civil War. Wounded in the same battle,
They embraced before it was too late.
I turn and see a thin yellow streamer
At the water’s edge. I know it says “caution,”
But I walk up to it to fi nd out why.
A slab of the concrete embankment
Has broken next to the pond.
It is a small sign, but it looms large.
My wife and I are here to celebrate
We picnic on a bench
And look down at the harbor. We wander
Among the mausoleums, peering in
At the stained glass.
Then we cross the road
Into the class divide—many of the tombstones
A foot or two high, leaning or fallen over,
The writing washed away.
I think of today’s
Rich and famous getting tested—
Even without symptoms—while others
Must wait in critical condition.
But we are here to celebrate so we walk
Hand in hand and sit down watching a woman
Singing opera for herself across the pond.
A beautiful blue woodpecker lands
In a nearby tree. At one point we have a small spat,
When we come to the spot where we will be buried,
We make it a point not to argue.
Later we hug and hold hands again.
Today I walk to Battle Hill, the highest
Point in the borough. Right here, just blocks
From my house, the Battle of Brooklyn once raged.
Now a new kind of battle rages as the sirens
Scream so loud.
This is no time for bravado.
This is no time for showmanship. Only
Science and sanity will get us through this.
I stand next to Minerva as she salutes
The Statue of Liberty. These two have
Seen so much. I shudder to think
What else they will witness.
Now I see more of my neighbors
Walking on these Greenwood paths as the
Cemetery has thrown open all of its gates.
We nod a quick hello and keep on going.
New York has many distinctions but
Corona epicenter is one we never wanted.
I walk out the front gate and see that
Someone has painted in bold letters
On a large planter across the street:
“LOVE WILL KEEP US APART.”
There’s always a joker. We need that too.
By Todd Friedman