With a few scattered emails and what felt like a split second, my world fractured into a million pieces. What was hypothetical two weeks ago became certain. What was improbable became an unavoidable truth.
I tried everything: crying, ranting to friends, listening to music, looking at old pictures, not looking at old pictures. But nothing seemed to expel my thoughts that in some parallel universe, I’m still laying down on Cross Campus. Or walking down Science Hill on a cold Tuesday afternoon, wondering if I’ll run into any familiar faces. I still hear the squirrels scratching the trees in Branford’s courtyard quietly celebrating the return of their favorite season. I still feel the breeze of monotony I get every time I step into Bass.
I feel trapped in some iteration of the world with no escape where things are aimlessly moving in the negative axis. One minute I hear nonsensical chatter, the other I’m seized by void. It is a time so indefinite that I’m reliving the past and clinging onto my slippery future. In a matter of days, I have turned from my invincible self to someone who is helpless, defeated and lost. I had looked forward to a semester that I will never forget.
Why did it have to happen this semester? Why not my sophomore spring or junior fall? I would have gladly moved them online. I wish I had prepared myself mentally for this or prioritized meals with friends over another work shift. I wish I had the chance to make it all up next fall. All of my wishes compressed into one: My life would quite simply go back to normal. A feeling so familiar yet so foreign. Images of Yemenis, Uyghurs, Kashmiris, Palestinians and Syrians started floating to the surface of my consciousness. Is this what it feels like to be a normal human being, with passions, dreams and growing friendships and to have everything be ripped away without a moment’s notice?
While I panic over the lack of toilet paper, Yemenis do not have food on their tables. While I mourn not having a senior week, Syrians plea for another chance to go to school. While I twinge at the fact that lockdown is preventing me from reuniting with my dad, children in Gaza do not even know what a life without lockdown is like. My mind instantly went down through this infinite spiral, it hit the massacred Rohingya people in Myanmar, sprinted towards the incarcerated children near the Mexico border and bounced back to injured protesters in the recent clashes in Hong Kong. I could not help it, I felt pathetic. Nothing I grappled with seemed to matter anymore.
How did it go over my head? This virus is not an arbitrary misfortune, it is our wake-up call. We live in a world where people have been fighting for decades for clean water and proper education. A world in which asking to live in freedom and dignity is considered idealistic. Some Americans must reach the brink of death before receiving medical assistance. There are over 500,000 homeless people in the U.S. alone. Due to fragile health systems, most countries are now living in economic turmoil and preparing for tomorrow’s recession. Food banks are struggling to feed millions of children who previously relied on school meals. I can keep throwing around numbers, but that is just stating the obvious. Simply put, this is not the world I want to live in. We shouldn’t wait for a deadly pandemic to put things into perspective. We need rapid and structural change to efface the systemic dysfunction, inequality and injustice we ceaselessly observe.
Advocacy for Universal Pass and other campus issues is laudable, but let us not forget to look outside Yale and ask the bigger questions as well. What is beyond this pandemic? What is it trying to teach us? Where will the U.S. and the world be in several months? Now that we have lived through a global crisis, are we going to unite and ensure it never happens again, or at least prepare ourselves if it does? A pandemic has no race or religion, it strikes the East just like the West and treats all people equally. Had we approached humanitarian crises from the same perspective, would our world look like this?
This is our opportunity for a full recovery. Time has slowed down for us, if we just dare to listen. I refuse to sit and watch the news say we were too late to act on climate change; too slow to react to civil war atrocities committed by authoritarian regimes; once again caught unready to save children from mass shootings. We have failed, time and time again, to stand for those who need us — the refugees, immigrants, displaced and oppressed. And most importantly, we have failed our planet.
I’m not sure why, but something about us going through this crisis together keeps me hopeful that we will do anything in our power to tear down the walls of impossibilities, one after the other, until all Americans have access to essential health care, Palestinians are no longer in permanent quarantine, and climate change is treated as it should be — an existential threat. Solidarity is the only way forward. We can’t save our graduation at this point, but we can sure as hell save that of our children’s.
To the class of 2020: Very soon, some of us will be working in presidential campaigns, taking care of patients at the frontlines, reshaping the character of foreign policies or running for office. The decisions that every single one of us will make can transform millions of lives and prevent another crisis like this one. Rather than grieve our lost pleasures and suffocate over uncertainty, I ask you to be proud, for we have witnessed history. Not only as one of the very few classes to not graduate on time, but also one of just a handful given a chance to change the trajectory of this world.
On a second thought, I have been gifted with a senior spring that I will never forget. One that will bring back memories of COVID-19, coupled with a mission to work harder than ever for a world that we want to live in. Only with a positive attitude and a call to action can we, together, heal from a pandemic and envision a future that leaves no one uncared for.
ROULA SHARQAWE is a senior in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .