Wearing his long-sleeved button-down and his trusty suspenders, my 80-year-old neighbor, a lone, brave bagpiper, marches out to the courtyard at 6:45 PM on a sunny Saturday evening and begins his vigil. At 6:50, on the now empty, grassy knoll across the street, an area that would otherwise be filled with kids playing football, he stands alone and begins his mournful procession. He is accompanied only by the ancient sounds that evoke a time gone by and some foreign, open landscape. Even though he was my mentor and math tutor for years, I do not go to the terrace to see him, as I myself have not left my apartment since the day this nightmare began. But I do hear his somber song echo to my balcony as he makes his way to the cavern between our twin co-op buildings.
On sunny evenings, Andy comes out to play, and throngs emerge at windows and terraces to cheer and encourage the gentleman, mask pulled beneath his chin, whose song and demeanor lend dignity to the nightly tribute to frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic. A humble man, he cannot conceive why anyone would wish to hear what he calls his “subpar” playing. He cannot see that, with this tribute, he becomes a hero, braving the air droplets that terrify those half, one quarter, and even one eighth his age. With his breath, he generates waves of sound that are also waves of hope for this neighborhood that yearns for the presence of the sensible, spectacled, suspendered math professor and his incongruous instrument.