You Will Be Afraid, But Determined: To My Unassuming, Pre-Pandemic, Pre-Protest Self

Illustration by Cecley Hill

You Will Be Afraid, But Determined: To My Unassuming, Pre-Pandemic, Pre-Protest Self


September 21, 2020


2018: Do you remember moving to New York? You arrived focused on a new life, on cramming into the Upper East Side, a short commute to Midtown to design and build dreams.


2019: Do you remember falling in love (with the City)? But


2020: The City will be still. January 1st will arrive already haunted.

You will ride the Q train for the last time in February.

Apprehension will occupy the subway platforms absent of bodies who no longer sip coffee from the street vendor at Lexington and 63rd.

You will clap for the frontlines, feeling helpless as your cheers echo in empty streets. You will be unsure of what you’re cheering for: the end of the beginning, the beginning of the end?

There will be such blanket silence that new sounds will emerge: you will fall asleep to the rumble of trains speeding underground. You will awake to eerie quiet and birdsong.

Remember that planning program in Europe that you had dreamt of attending? You will be accepted. And you will decline.

You will walk the middle lane of Park Avenue at 7:00am and 7:00pm, the only other movement a shift of the buildings’ shadows.

You will see the world turn upside-down; with their faces hidden, but bright eyes eager, your neighbors will not cease to be people.

You will stay despite pressures to flee. You will know you cannot leave this place you’ve made your home, this city you’ve seen transformed by tragedy. You will watch as it hesitantly rises.


And as the city rises, so too will its people.

Bright lights will flash red and blue across your face as you witness police blockade your street, arresting protesters. The New York Times will publish photographs of the scene within the hour.

You will support Black Lives in protest with your bicycle, the people’s vehicle, wheels of democracy. The pixelated screens of Times Square will contrast 10,000 riders clothed in black.

You will hear the distant drumming and chanting approaching every afternoon while you’re on another Zoom call. You will wish you weren’t so that you could chant, too.

You will critique every piece of architecture and planning idea you’ve had – ideas which would have served you, but never the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

You will write letters every Saturday: senators, governor, mayor, city council member – will they listen?

You will challenge the desire you once had to study in Brussels. You will grasp how New York, your city, needs you.


December 31st, 2019: You will feel uneasy about the New Year without a hint of what is to come. And yet – 2020 will ground you in time and place; it will awaken you to your purpose, fueled by the lessons you will continue to learn, the year still stretching its remaining time before you, knowing what needs to be done.


Mary Geschwindt is a Master in Urban Planning student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

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