BY KATE WALTER | The community room is closed. The gallery is dark. The spring flea market has been postponed. The community room and the gallery are the heart and soul of Westbeth Artists Housing. Everyone looks forward to shopping at the busy flea market in the basement.
The main lobby, normally bustling with activity and conversation, is somber. Management recently issued a memo that residents should only use the lobby for essential activities — no hanging out. I really feel bad for the seniors with mobility issues who use the lobby as a place to sit on a bench and socialize. Thankfully, it will get warm soon and they will be able to go outside into the courtyard. Westbeth is a NORC, a naturally occurring retirement community, with many senior citizens in their 70s and 80s.
It’s hard to believe that only two weeks ago I gave a reading with three other writers in the community room. About 50 people were in attendance and later we talked about the work and drank champagne. I read the first chapter of a novel in progress and everyone told me they wanted to know what would happen next. The feedback was super-encouraging. Just what I needed. It was the kind of interaction that makes Westbeth a great place for artists to live.
I’ve been a resident here since 1997. One of the best things about this complex is all the free and inexpensive activities that take place in the community room — classes, readings, concerts, puppet shows for the kids, under the auspices of the Westbeth Artists Residents Council. I often write in my gratitude journal, “I’m grateful to live in Westbeth.”
Everything is now on hiatus. I loved the chair yoga class on Monday taught by the gifted Jennifer Gibson, who trained at Integral Yoga Institute. It really helped me cure my sciatica.
I totally looked forward to The Sing Time Sessions every time Friday, taught by the talented jazz singer and Westbeth resident Eve Zanni. I’ve been a member of the “Bliss Singers” for over two years and made friends from inside and outside the building.
At our last meeting on March 13, we sat apart from each other but sang our hearts out. Eve assured us she’d send us music video so we could practice our repertoire at home. Issac Raz, our amazing pianist, dazzled us with his solos on “Swing, Swing, Swing.” We ended the session with a heartfelt version of “We Shall Overcome.”
I was almost crying when I said goodbye to my classmates, with the now typical farewell, “Stay safe.”
As I left the community room, I thought of that famous short story by Alphonse Daudet “The Last Class.” It’s a tearjerker that made a big impression on me when I first read it in college in a world lit class.
Losing all these activities is a major blow for someone like me who is single and lives alone. I’m a very outgoing, social person who really likes interacting with people. Adding to my social isolation, my church, Middle Collegiate, has stopped in-person worship and is going virtual. The New York Public Library (my second home) is closed and so is the Whitney (I’m a member).
This current situation at Westbeth is very different than other disasters we weathered together. Both 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy brought us together as we helped our neighbors. The virus isolates us and keeps us apart. But one thing is similar — the calmness and professionalism of our hard-working staff at Westbeth is reassuring.
Of course there is so much uncertainty. No one knows if things will get better or worse with the virus. No one knows for sure if and when things will resume. The key word seem to be “postponed,” not “canceled.”
My singing class is supposed to resume later this spring. I can’t wait and marked the date in my calendar.
I’m usually happy when it’s spring, but this year I’m feeling kinda depressed and lonely. I know things could be worse. Other than being over 60, I’m not in any of the high-risk groups for the virus. I can still enjoy walking in Hudson River Park and going to the Greenmarket. And soon I will plant my garden outside on Bethune Street. That will cheer me up.
I’m trying to look on the bright side of everything being canceled — being stuck in my apartment gives me time to finish my novel. I have no excuses now.
Update: Westbeth tenants received a notice on Saturday afternoon that all events in the community room and gallery have been postponed until April 15, if conditions allow.