Without the daily briefings, life feels almost normal again. Maybe not normal… but quieter.
Ok, no, maybe not quieter either. Louder, in fact. I suspect the excess of fireworks were in celebration of Juneteenth, commemorating the emancipation of our African siblings and the end of slavery. During his final daily briefing, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an Executive Order making Juneteenth a federal holiday in New York State.
I sat on the upper level of the roof, above the Castle, with my dear friend Nick Graybeal a.k.a. Judah Sledgehammer. After hanging drywall in The Lit Room, our venue, we sat idly on yoga mats, watching the sun descend and the fireworks splay out, brighter and brighter against the darkening sky. We decided it a good idea to climb our building’s rusting, wobbling ladder to a higher vantage point for yoga and our neighborhood’s light show.
“They go all night, and it’s pretty noisy, but it’s worth it to have a fireworks show whenever you want,” I said, legs crossed on the mat. We looked out over houses, and housing complexes, buildings, and empty lots. Street upon street upon street laden with cars. Over it all, or behind it all, fireworks dazzled and sparked and crashed and boomed.
Juneteenth 2020 was also the last day Cuomo issued his daily briefing on the coronavirus pandemic. I remember watching on the living room television with the Lit Room family – all of us together: Love Lucy Hall, Flo-Pilot, Judah Nick Graybeal, and myself.
I cried because I had never before been so inspired by leadership. I frequently refer to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his team as “leadership,” because their work simply did not feel like “government” business as usual. It didn’t feel like “the man.”
I also frequently made a joke calling him Governor Daddy. Probably because his manner came across fatherly. And we have big Daddy energy here at the Lit Room.
Sure, Governor Cuomo offered us comfort and confidence. But he didn’t placate us. He told us the truth, so we were armed with the knowledge to make the appropriate decisions. We, defiant New Yorkers, who would unlikely listen without damn good reason. And even then… we are a defiant people.
Sure, he signed Executive Orders. But he didn’t make demands. Nor did he make threats. “Please,” he would say. This isn’t something government can do. It’s something the people need to do. He informed us of the consequences. “Tell me what New Yorkers do today, and I’ll tell you what those numbers look like tomorrow.”
Governor Cuomo spoke often and freely about love. “The really tough guys, they know how to show love,” he would tell us. “I love New York, because New York loves you. New York loves all of you. Black, and white, and brown, and Asian, and short, and tall, and gay, and straight. New York loves everyone.”
That part always gets me. Even writing it out brings tears to my eyes.
Because I felt loved! Because I felt like Governor Cuomo told me the truth. Because he shared little snippets of his life with us. After, with a grim face and furrowed brow, he would tell us the numbers of the day: how many New Yorkers were infected (that we know about), how many New Yorkers were hospitalized, how many New Yorkers died… After he told us the truth, what we needed to know as soldiers in his army, fighting the virus, it felt like he would take a figurative deep breath.
After sharing with us the collective pain of our state, of our country, of our world, in raw data, he would talk about his family. He told us about his mother, Matilda, the namesake of New York On Pause. He involved his daughters, Michaela, Mariah, and Cara, who sometimes accompanied him on the dais of the briefings, and even took on projects themselves. Mariah Kennedy-Cuomo oversaw the ‘Wear a Mask’ ad campaign contest. And Michaela Kennedy-Cuomo made bracelets from beads that read “New York Tough.” I suspect one could see the colorful accessory on the governor’s wrist during some of the final briefings.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made me laugh.
Every Saturday, he posted a meme poking fun at his PowerPoint presentations and reminding us simply, “Today is Saturday.”
Even when I heard the sirens resounding through Brooklyn at the peak of the outbreak, all day and all night. The sirens never stopped. “Even if it’s a long night; and this is a long night,” he told us.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo met with us, told us the truth, reassured us, and made us laugh everyday. Every. Single. Day.
On my Brooklyn rooftop, on Juneteenth 2020, surrounded by fireworks, I lazily scrolled on my phone to come across a small recap of his final daily briefing earlier that day. I hit play, turned up the volume, and held my phone to the sky so it played against a backdrop of exploding sparkles.
We watched together, Judah and I, as a slideshow of photos played: We saw Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, and Commissioner of Health for New York State Howard Zucker. We saw the USS Comfort and Javits Center.
We saw true leadership.
Governor Cuomo spoke the final lines of his final daily briefing:
“Love wins. Always.”
He left us with the image of Corning Tower in Albany, NY, with windows lit decoratively in the shape of a heart and the bridge he named for his father, former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo, all glowing awash in blue light. And a final end scene cued up saying #NewYorkTough in silence.
Two more sentences appeared onscreen, one at a time:
“And don’t forget.”
“Tomorrow is Saturday.”
Despite my tears already freely flowing, I cried out, and started to laugh simultaneously, feeling the sensations of loss and joy and tragedy and levity intermingle inside me. I jumped into Judah’s arms, laughing and crying and speaking in tones so exasperated and overwhelmed with emotion that I can’t remember the words.
I feel like part of the New York family. I feel loved. And I feel confident in the hands of a competent leader.