I feel as if I’ve been punched in the throat. Being treated like a person is scary here. One must then recognize that one is indeed a person, which then makes one aware of the inhumane realities of this place. I thought I understood then. But as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, I got an even better understanding…
Danger during the war in Aleppo was marked with sound and smoke. During the pandemic, danger is boundless. It can be everywhere and anywhere. The most fashionable and well-off person can carry the virus and pass it on to me, while on the other hand, an armed person walking next to me on the sidewalk could be harmless. The invisible danger is what makes the virus lethal. In war, if the sound is far away, then I can assume I am safe.
Portland protesters armed with leaf blowers and cardboard signs face off with masked federal agents sporting fatigues and riot gear—guns, truncheons, and shields. Orange tear-gas clouds plume up from the tarmac as the agents grab protesters and hurl them into unmarked cars. These are images typically associated with far-off, war-torn countries ruled by authoritarian regimes—not democratic governments. But in less than six months, some of the most toxic elements of the US national psyche have risen to the surface, denuded by the global pandemic and bull-horned across the country by the divisive and belligerent rhetoric of the White House.
Last week, I dug up a box of my parents’ old letters. They were written before my parents were married, while my mom was still in Taiwan and an ocean away from my dad in the United States. A surprising number of the letters were in English; the writing is stilted, and it’s clear that English is neither of my parents’ first language, but the mundane recounting of their days felt somehow both endearing and sacred. Holding the tangible artifacts of my parents’ courtship in my hands, I imagined for the first time the twentysomethings they were when they wrote those letters.