Fear, hope is all mixed together in middle of crisis


Early in the morning of April 4, about 4 a.m., just into springtime — the most pregnant of seasons — a 55-year-old Bronx man with diabetes, who found out he had been infected with the COVID-19 virus, called the police on himself.

The man then went out on Westchester and Zerega avenues, near a grimy elevated train station — the metal stanchions coated with decades of dirt — two blocks from the school where I teach, in front of the Dunkin’ store many of the teachers go to for coffee and breakfast.

This man had a gun and a military knife with viciously serrated edges. He reportedly baited the New York Police Department officers who arrived on the scene into shooting him.

Despite repeated warnings by police on the scene, he walked toward them with the gun and knife in his hands. Then they shot him nine times.

He was trying to commit “suicide by cop,” according to reports, in a place where dozens of New York City pigeons skulk around, their grey heads bobbing back and forth non-stop, then pecking the sidewalk flecked with black gum ground into the concrete, looking for a bite to eat.

So now, the man has COVID-19, diabetes, and multiple gunshot wounds in his hip and back. That’s a lot of pain, all wrapped up in just one body. He ended up in Jacobi Medical Center. Early news reporters said the man was expected to survive.

His name is Ricardo Cardona. I think about this poor guy from time to time. I imagine he had just exhausted all the possibilities for himself.

I’d like to visit Mr. Cardona in the hospital, but of course, that’s impossible. I want to ask him about his life and listen to all his stories. I want to know what his childhood was like, who he loved, and what he did. I would hope that he’d tell me about his family, and his children, if he had any.

Maybe he could tell me stories about the jobs he had throughout his life, and the things he’s seen. I want to get him to talk himself into something resembling a good mood.

I’m not particularly good at inspirational talk. Think of Franklin D. Roosevelt or Barack Obama. Now think of the exact opposite. That’s me.

But I would like to tell Mr. Cardona one story, just short enough not to be boring.

I have a student who is homeless. She’s in a shelter with her mother. They were evicted from their apartment, even before COVID-19 hit.

This girl is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. Despite the fact she’s gone through the terrible trauma of losing her home, this kid does all the schoolwork I’ve asked to her. She reads books. She learns math and phonics. She draws pictures and writes sentences about things she’s read.

Also, importantly, her mother is determined, too. She has a fierce desire for her daughter to succeed. The two of them have little fires burning in their hearts. To learn, to improve, to succeed, to be something. To rise above where they are.

Mr. Cardona, I hope you can recover soon. And I hope you get the opportunity someday to walk around the local park in the light of a spring day. I want you to hear the birds talking to each other in the trees, and feel the warmth of the sun on your back.

May you get another day, Mr. Cardona. A day you choose to get.

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Michael Gold,