“Science will pull through, vaccines and hydroxychloroquine and whatnot. Still, our vulnerability began to frighten me; who is really in charge?”
The world surged into surreality just as I turned fifteen. On March 12th, the stay-at-home order was put in place; five days prior, I’d been straightening my hair, meticulously glossing my lips, and ready to celebrate with my closest friends. I had an inkling of what was to come, thanks to my father’s mathematical predictions. I’d chosen to ignore it and have one relaxed evening, burying myself in the petty issues that come with being a teenage girl. So when the events began to unravel so quickly and suddenly, the threat of global havoc finally making itself clear in my muddled mind, it was hard to comprehend.
Looking back, week one’s events are hazy. I was happy that school canceled, as there were local cases and the thought of being around that many people began to terrify me. Other than that, I followed the news, lounged on the couch, and attempted to cook. I relished waking up late. It’s nice to think of it as a break, a relaxed suspension as those in charge scramble to fix this drastic change. As the days dragged on, the redundancy eventually got to me. My screwed-up sleep schedule and loud surroundings didn’t help either.
I decided to read and write, two activities I barely got to do when school is in session, yet even that got boring. I wanted to find some new talents, but it turns out baking isn’t for me. The cake—more like ‘unintentional incense’—sucked. I was reminded of my birthday party and the huge dessert we’d shared. We had been stupidly happy, bracing for the storm but not really. It was more like ‘I see that big wave, but I’m comfortably relaxing on my beach towel,’ and we moved on. My panic worsened, and I didn’t want to bombard my mother with these feelings, for she’s more paranoid than me.
To lessen my anxiousness, I stopped tuning into CNN. So when I eventually checked the data, I was surprised to see how 700,000 cases jumped to 1,000,000 in just three days. Then Boris Johnson was diagnosed—not a surprise, considering he did brag about shaking hands with COVID-19 patients—and any security I felt shattered. I’m not sure why; I barely know anything about him, just that he’s the Prime Minister of England. I suppose the invisible lines in my mind—those who are safe and those who aren’t—blurred.
I tried to be prudent when I was younger, parroting the words of Carl Sagan: “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe. . .” Yet it’s just begun to resonate with me. We are not invincible; not as a nation, not as a planet. We go about our lives, ignoring the threat when it’s China, relaxing when it hasn’t reached our state, and then feeling shocked when it’s right in front of us. It takes one respiratory illness to flip the world upside down; any normalcy we’ve ever known put aside for the time being.
Of course, our knowledge will pull through. Science will pull through, vaccines and hydroxychloroquine and whatnot. Still, our vulnerability began to frighten me; who is really in charge? Who’s our protector, from viruses like COVID-19 or any other mass destructors? I could not find solace in spirituality, so I thought of my grandmother, who, if she had not passed away last November, would be confined to the house and writing poetry. She would’ve penned something personal, as I am right now. Perhaps everybody has philosophical tendencies during a pandemic.
So I broadened my mind. I centered my late-night thoughts not just around my concurrent experiences, but also around health-care employees and grocers and those deemed essential workers. Around the millions who have found themselves jobless in the midst of this unprecedented confusion. And of course, around the truly vulnerable ones to this virus: people with compromised immune systems, whether it be due to age or illness.
When I thought of them, the randomness of my privilege was clear in my mind. I’m lucky to stay at home with my family, for there are many that cannot. While my situation is extremely different from many people’s, we have all been thrust into this together. Our fragility is universal, and the connection is both frightening and beautiful. We are each other’s protectors.
To honor those who are risking their lives for us every day, I’ll continue to stay home. And I’ll continue to find beauty in the fragility, as Carl Sagan also said: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is only bearable through love.” I believe that.
I’ll also continue to bake. I have time to master the art.