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Virus Without Borders: Chapter One

© photo copyright by Carol Bergman 2020


 A Visit to the Bank



Al Torquato is my very friendly, sweet-natured, engaging local banker. He's a city transplant, as am I, has raised a son and a daughter in New Paltz, and likes to walk to ease the pain in his bad back. When I first arrived at his desk just about two years ago, and told him I was an avid walker, he suggested a route up Plains Road past the Rural Cemetery, the route he likes to walk because there isn't much traffic. So he's local and I am local. We discuss our lives while doing business even when the business is not that interesting, or pleasurable, or perhaps because it is not particularly interesting or pleasurable. We sit, we talk, we sign papers, we get online, we make a phone call or two, we figure out a problem, all in the context of person-person connection and lots of stories. Al is a voluble storyteller. He tells stories about his childhood, his leisure pursuits, his long marriage, his children. I listen and then I tell my own stories. He listens and then tells more stories.

Al is known to hug his clients now and again, which is not a good idea these days. So when I sat down at his desk yesterday I kept my distance, as instructed, noted with enthusiasm the Purell on his desk, and proceeded to Lysol his desk, the arms of the chair, and the credit card machine. He burst out laughing. This is not unusual; Al smiles all the time and laughs easily. But then came a problem: he had to make a phone call to an off-site department of the bank on my behalf. He immediately introduced himself, and asked the woman's name—she was in Richmond, VA—introduced her to me, and started to hand me the phone he'd just been breathing into. I took out my Lysol wipes. "Just a minute, Hannah, she has to disinfect the phone." We both laughed. I was a bit hysterical, in fact. And laughed and laughed. Finally, I picked up the phone, disinfected it, and took care of my business with Hannah, who was also laughing and friendly, probably because Al had been laughing and is so friendly. Good business, of course, but also good people.

So what's the lesson here, I asked myself, as I said my good-byes. Take good care, follow all health protocols and directives, but do not stop telling stories. We need each other right now, all the time, all day long, as much connection as we can muster in all contexts, however challenging. Let the humanity and compassion in all of us shine. Assume the best of everyone. And listen to lots of music. With that in mind, I opened all my car windows and blasted some reggae on the way home. I had been worried—about everything—when I went into the bank, but my fears had eased.

I report this to you today, dear reader, as my first entry in the Virus Without Borders "witness to history" assignment. This is the assignment my NYU students are working on at the moment. I hereby now assign it to myself. We are living a profoundly difficult history. As peripheral narrators—in the action and observing the action—we have the tools to document this moment. Stay tuned for more chapters from this reporter/writer. Please share yours with friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.

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