I always think of history as something that doesn’t happen to me. Instead, history is something that happened a long time ago, something that I read about in textbooks, something that might have museums or memorials dedicated to it.
It was a bit jarring then, to realize that this time of Coronavirus has not only firmly secured its place in history — in the pages of soon-to-be-written textbooks and perhaps even in memorials erected to honour the people who lost their lives because of it — but it is also something that I’m very much a part of.
I wonder if my future children or grandchildren will think about what it was really like to live through this time just like I wonder what it was really like to live through World War II. Two completely different situations, I know, but no doubt just as foreign a concept in their minds.
If they ask me what it was like, what will I tell them?
I suppose I’ll start at the beginning, describing how word spread with rumours and misquoted information as fast as the virus itself. There was a lot of blame placed and subsequently redirected. There were a lot of questions asked that were left unanswered. There was a lot of denial and doubt.
I’ll tell the story of how I was stopped at the border to El Salvador and subjected to the most rigorous questioning and medical screenings I had ever encountered during my travels. At this point, they’ll probably ask me why I didn’t go home immediately. I’ll reply by saying that the stories I heard about the worst-hit countries or even about Canada seemed far-removed from my situation. Life in Central America was at the time, well, normal. So I carried on, swimming at more waterfalls, eating more chicharron, climbing more volcanoes, watching more sunsets, making more plans.
But then, as the situation continued to escalate, Trudeau said the fateful words, Canadians, come home. After phone calls home, cancelled and rebooked flights, I was rushing from Bogota to the airport, my plans abruptly coming to an end.
I’ll tell them how it felt like there was a cloud of uncertainty hovering above the world, and the hardest part was not knowing whether it would drift away or unleash a torrential downpour upon us. How people began hoarding toilet paper and canned goods. “What’s toilet paper?” they’ll ask me. I’ll give a small smile, forgetting that fifty years earlier, toilets weren’t fully automated.
I’ll tell them how their grandpa would watch the news every night, then report back any updates. 50 more deaths in Spain, 118 new cases in Italy. I’ll tell them how I started doing yoga with their grandma, and how we watched the entire series of Outlander, and how every Wednesday, we had a glass of gin & tonic.
I’ll tell them about all the baking we did and how it was such a treat because freshly baked goods were one of the things I missed most when I was travelling. Soon, it seemed like the whole world was baking. Yeast and flour joined the list of sacred goods on short supply.
I’ll tell them about our zoom dinners and how I would sit in my pajamas all day, sometimes for several days at a time, because there was nowhere to go and no one to see. I’ll tell them about how clear the mountains became and how strange it felt driving along empty roads in no traffic.
I’ll tell them about the glass barriers that appeared at grocery store checkouts, and the lines on the floor that indicated we had to stand six feet apart, and the park physical-distancing signs too. I’ll tell them about the hand drawn rainbows that appeared in windows, and signs that sprang out of billboards urging us to stay home, and signs on shop windows saying temporarily closed.
I’ll tell them about the people who lost jobs and the people who were suddenly working more than ever: healthcare workers, grocery workers, first responders. And how, every day at 7pm, we’d salute these people, honking car horns, banging on pots, clapping our hands. I’ll tell them about the schools that closed, the kids that missed their friends, the parents that suddenly became teacher, caregiver, and breadwinner all at once.
If they ask me if I was scared, I’ll pause for a minute, going over the doubts and troubles that crossed my mind. Then I’ll say no, I personally wasn’t scared. I had my health, my family, a roof over my head, a source of income. And yet, even though my day-to-day life didn’t scare me, I was still crippled by this overarching fear of uncertainty for the state of the world. What would become of it? Would life ever go back to normal?
Maybe these stories will be unfathomable to them, just like stories of the war always seemed a little unfathomable to me. Maybe I’ll show them the mask I had to wear, and they’ll run their fingers over it as though it was a sacred relic. Or I’ll show them how far we had to stand apart from each other and they’ll smile in disbelief and say “yeah right!”.
Or maybe these stories will seem normal to them and it’s life before quarantine that’ll be incomprehensible. Maybe their eyes will widen in shock as I show them pictures of how we used to gather at the beach by the thousands to watch fireworks, or tell them how we’d push and shove our way into an already overcrowded train to get to work, or how it was perfectly acceptable to shake hands with strangers, or sit elbow to elbow at the counter of a packed café.
Maybe history will remember Coronavirus in a completely different way. But for me, one of the lucky ones, I’ll remember it as a time of reflection, of reconnecting with family and friends in unconventional ways, of resting, of restarting forgotten projects, and of witnessing humanity come together and support each other in a very beautiful way.