By Katherine McLaughlin
I had my reservations about this apartment. The kitchen could barely fit two people and my bedroom could barely fit a full-sized bed. The living room didn’t have any windows and I wasn’t sure if we would have room for something as basic as a table. But, my roommates successfully convinced me it would be worth it for the balconies that hung outside of our bedroom doors. Living in New York City, I was used to compromises. This was just another one — a tiny indoor space for a tiny bit of outdoor space.
Living in the city, I grew desensitized to the basic idea of private outdoor space. It was as if I’d forgotten my Midwest childhood full of backyards that would easily sprawl over an acre of land, and simply accepted that the outdoors only existed through public parks and sidewalks with other people. When my roommates and I had the opportunity to get this simple luxury back, I wasn’t even sure I wanted it.
We moved in the summer, right in the middle of a global pandemic. The apartment overflowed quickly with boxes and I grew easily overwhelmed. Over and over, I thought to myself that this had to have been a mistake. I was convinced we would never fit everything we needed into such a tiny unit. But slowly — as we broke in the space — everything found its place. Books on shelves, clothes on hangers, and me on the balcony.
Like so many others, the coronavirus pandemic took a toll on my mental health. Between working from home and a lack of socialization mixed with the fear and sadness that comes from so many deaths, recent months haven’t been easy. However, they’ve been better since living in this new apartment.
I didn’t realize how deeply our balconies would affect me, and how quickly they’d become an oasis. After long days staring at a computer and working from the same room I sleep, stepping outside to read a book to the sounds of nature has become the simplest refuge. Taking lunch breaks in the sunshine creates a physical change from the monotony of the workday. Saturday morning air with a cup of coffee is easily the purest moment of my week.
It wasn’t until this year that I was reminded how much outdoor space is a necessity in my life. While it’s been a way to break up a world that exists almost entirely inside now, it also reminds me that there is so much more to our existence than just the situation we’re in now. Sitting on my balcony has become a front-row seat to the beauty of our planet and the people who inhabit it.
When I turn towards the south, apartment roofs only barely peak through maple trees behind our building. It’s one of the few places I know in the city where nature overpowers concrete. I can see leaves rustling peacefully, dancing softly to the music of a bird’s call and response. I smell the changing seasons and watch the days begin and end.
When I look to the east, I see the sprawling metropolis. I’m reminded of the resilience and strength of human civilization. I see people walking their dogs and playing with kids. I hear laughter and live music from a rooftop a few blocks away. Even the stereotypical sirens of the city bring comfort as I think of thousands of men and women who dedicate their lives to saving others.
I’m inspired daily from watching our planet and people from my own little perch on the world. During a time where everything in life seems wrong, sitting on my balcony is one of the few things that feels right. It’s become a sanctuary, an escape, peace — and I get all of this just for the price of a smaller bedroom.