April 9, 2020 | Narrative
love in the time of corona
a reflection on the past month
It is 10:53 p.m. I should have sent in a draft of this article to my editor hours ago, but here I am: still staring at the blinking cursor, unsure of the words I should write. How am I to articulate all the emotions I’ve felt this past month, all the confusion I’ve experienced? Can I even piece together everything that’s happened? How do I write an article about COVID-19 with optimism but not naivete? Solemnity but not despair? And, of course, the question plaguing every corner of our planet: How are we going to get through this?
Rain is falling outside my window. I pause; the cursor is still blinking, mocking my inability to do the one thing I’ve always found solace in: writing. Instead, I am thinking of a New York Times article someone else wrote the other day (Sabrina Tavernise’s Spit On, Yelled At, Attacked: Chinese-Americans Fear for Their Safety). I am reliving my first encounter with insomnia. My mind replays last month’s dozen rushed goodbyes, a hundred empty airport seats, a thousand unfocused prayers to get home safely, get home quickly, get home get home God please let me get home. I think of my lonely self-quarantine (spoiler alert: God did let me get home after all) and then my brother’s post-quarantine comment (“you look like a pale zombie”). I muse over the passive-aggressive political debates between my family members, the funny but tiresome memes that even church uncles have resorted to exchanging out of “boredom.”
The pitter-patter continues outside my window. A song plays on my phone.
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees”
I know that I am lucky. I’m not a senior mourning a postponed or cancelled graduation, I’m not a healthcare worker, I’m not immunocompromised, I’m not infected. My daily qualms merely include cabin fever, an inability to focus, faraway friends, some financial concerns, and a sprained thumb. Still, I fear for my grandparents and my relatives in the medical field—and when I do not grieve for myself, I grieve for others.
According to a USA Today article (published April 1), over 1,000 people are dying each day from coronavirus-related complications in the United States alone. Statistically, that means I could lose every single person I know to the disease in one day—and there would still be spaces left over. These kinds of numbers make me anxious. So, without meaning to, I cope through indifference. I binge Netflix shows I don’t care about and scroll endlessly through Facebook, even if my feed is (ironically) full of Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens. I tag a friend and type “LOL,” even though I am not laughing at all.
The real truth is that my indifference was not initially a decision but rather a reaction. The other truth is that I don’t actually want to be indifferent—indifference and irresponsibility are separated by a fine, sometimes indecipherable line. Indifference involves distraction, and distraction is only so helpful. For example: I heavily considered rewriting this article as “love in the time of braces,” an irrelevant comedy sketch about my twelfth birthday. This is because some part of me wanted to pretend that 1) coronavirus didn’t exist and that 2) I was not constantly preoccupied by it. But the truth is that I cannot escape my mind when I write. No, I don’t want to be indifferent because indifference is a choice in and of itself.
So, instead, I walk into the fire.
When you first saunter into a fire (if you’d ever consider doing such a thing at all), I imagine you’d imagine death. Suffocation. At least, that’s what I see when I walk into this fire. The flames whip around me: nightly news flashing on the TV, my eyes aching after hours of video conferencing, the state on lockdown, assigned readings piling up, my parents spraying down Costco items “just in case,” the ever-crashing WiFi, my equally stressed-out friends. I must be burning.
“What do ashes taste like?” you ask.
I can barely hear you, since I’m in a raging furnace and all. I shrug my shoulders nonetheless, and suddenly I’m aware that my shoulders are…still there. My arms, forearms, hands. My sprained thumb, intact. I realize I am not burning, and that makes me realize that there is more to the fire than the fire itself. I am not alone.
Residents sing in unison from apartment balconies in Italy, New Yorkers cheer for their healthcare workers every night at 7 p.m., millions light candles in India to proclaim solidarity. There are people who still wake up and go to work, even when work is dangerous. There are others who are sacrificing weddings, graduations, celebrations. There are donors, doctors, delivery workers. There are grocers, garbagemen, government representatives.
There is some sort of safety in love. And though no amount of abstract phenomena can wipe away this pandemic, such love is so transcendent that it almost becomes tangible. Just when I think I am alone, I see the shape of another right beside me.
When the whole world is suddenly put on pause, we are forced to face ourselves: not our future aspirations, not our longed-for memories, but the kind of people we are.
What am I doing to help? What have I been living for? When was the last time I had a family dinner? What is the passion I’ve been pushing to the side for years? Who are the people that I actually miss? Who do I turn to in this blazing fire?
Now that our futures have become so ambiguous, we are asked to be certain about our present. In the midst of confusion, we are asked to place intentionality behind our decisions. We are asked to confront our years-long indifference.
It is 1:56 a.m. now. There is so much to be done, so little time and yet so much of it. The procrastination drags on, my dad will probably send our family group chat yet another news article, and I’m left dreading tomorrow’s five-and-a-half hours of Zoom classes. We’re all wondering when these flames will subside.
The chorus of that song now rings in my head:
“Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore”
The rain falls outside my window. I close my eyes and imagine a quenched fire.
“Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again.”
Maybe I’ll wake up to a rainbow.