Remember when we said together, “We will not let you die”?
Like elephants, we circled those we feared might be in danger. We kept away, we kept indoors, we let ourselves be still. The quiet streets were an act of love.
Remember how we filled those days? We did puzzles and baked bread. We called our grandparents. Some nights we lay down on our bedroom floors and just let ourselves be. We started jogging. We cleaned our closets. We took our dogs or our children on long, meandering walks.
Time might paint these memories rosy. We could remember the way we came together, rallying around a collective purpose as we only have perhaps in wartime (how beautiful to know we need no threat of arms to come together). People gave blood, donated generously, bought groceries for their neighbors, and made each other smile over video chat. We could remember the way our hearts stirred at being part of something bigger than ourselves.
It would not be honest, though, to remember this time too warmly.
Do you remember the grief?
Though our selflessness slowed the virus, it couldn’t stop it. Some of our loved ones began to gasp for breath, burning up in agony. Bitterly, we had to watch them suffer from afar.
Medical professionals faced exhaustion and agonizing decisions. Businesses closed. Work dried up. We lost our jobs. We lost our savings. We saw our dreams and labor vanish in a matter of weeks, eaten up by rent and piling expenses.
Borders closed, and some found ourselves on the wrong side. Those on the margins found ourselves even closer to the edge. Sweeping actions to mitigate the virus worked bluntly, in some cases granting power to leaders who could not be trusted with it, who later would be loath to part with it. Vulnerable countries were stretched even closer to their limits.
And the smaller disappointments: in the moment, we were bashful to admit we mourned these so deeply. Every celebration was suspended. No birthday parties, no graduation, no holy days in sacred places. Weddings postponed. No concerts or recitals. Canceled vacations. Work abroad cut short, barely time for a goodbye.
Sometimes we did puzzles and baked bread. Sometimes we did nothing. We checked our phones constantly, scrolling through the news until our eyes were bleary. We cried at the things we’d lost, at how things might never be the same. Sometimes anxiety pressed on our chest until our breath came ragged and we lay down on our bedroom floors wanting nothing more than a tight hug and the world as it had been.
The world wouldn’t go back to how it had been. Not right away. Not exactly. But one day we started to tell the story, and as we heard it coming from our mouths we knew it meant the story was behind us, and we had lived through it.
One day we’ll tell the story. We’ll talk about the time the world slowed down, and we’ll remember—when the virus came, we came together. Though we suffered, we made ourselves be still. This, perhaps, is the most radical part of everything that happened—that we considered our grandparents, our neighbors, and our loved ones, the poor, the sick and immunocompromised, we considered our families and ourselves and we responded with love.
Remember how we held these words for ourselves and for all people? Let us hold them yet—
“You are human.”
“You are precious.”
“We will not let you die.”
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).