By Toni-Ann Ocloo, Class of 2020
I remember asking one of my close friends Leila, just about two months ago, about history. I vividly remarked: “The 20th century was so eventful. Within three decades, there was the Great War, the Great Depression, etc. Will something happen to that scale in the 21st? Shouldn’t history have arrived now in 2020?”
Me two months ago wasn’t asking for a catastrophe. It had always fascinated me how greatly the world changed in just 100 years. The 20th century witnessed the transformation of societies into industrialized ones. The world witnessed two world wars, a cold one, and many silent conflicts. The world was forced to turn its eye to the injustices of the oppressed. In some cases, it averted its gaze. MLK Jr. gave his iconic speech in March of 1963, and Kennedy was assassinated a few months later. On July 20, 1969, a man walked on the moon. The USSR dissolved in 1991, creating newly independent states. The Berlin Wall fell in 1991, uniting a Germany that had long been separated. In 100 years, we witnessed humanity accomplish good and perpetrate evil.
The world I know is vastly different from the one my grandmother and parents remember. Toni two months ago was wondering when her first dose of history would arrive. Not that nothing important had already occurred. In fact, much had changed and occurred since Y2K. Gay marriage was legalized, and the United States saw its first black President. There is much more to include. However, what I have been aching for was a moment. I wanted to be able to point at something and be able to say: “I remember where I was, what I was doing, when this very specific thing happened.”
I had witnessed history in the 21st century with younger eyes. Eyes that didn’t yet contextualize my place in society and the implications of said event. I couldn’t truly remember them.
To me, there is a difference between history and the past. The past occurs and history is remembered. I wanted the type of history that was so grand that you couldn’t ignore it when it whacked you in the face. I wanted that history where you knew you were living it. I want to clarify that this isn’t a masochistic acceptance and romanticizing of what can also turn out to be extremely terrifying events. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to experience history, but more so that I was wondering when it would happen to me. Of all the millennia that humanity has dwelled on this planet, no one, I assume, has been able to escape catastrophe. I have been able to live a privileged life away from the trauma and the catastrophes that have indeed occurred now, just in places far away from me. I simply wondered how long I would be able to outrun history.
The coronavirus has provided me with the history I had been so curious about: the whack in the face that simply couldn’t be ignored. My eyes are still young. But I have found myself recognizing a situation I will never forget. This is the story I will be able to tell my children and grandchildren. This is the moment that will allow me to point and say, 'this is what I did, this is where I was, and this is how I felt.' But it turns out, history isn’t so grand afterall. We might be living through it, but it is hard to see it in that way.
The coronavirus has changed me. Instead of looking at the world with hopeful and youthful eyes, I have adopted a new form of pessimism unforeseen. History has made its mark on me, digging its claws into every fiber of my being. I can’t stop thinking about the world. Every day, it looks more different. I think about how we will recover from this, economically, politically, and socially. Will personal space become the new norm? How will international flights change? Will masks become a norm in all public spaces? How will schools adjust the school year if social distancing is prolonged? The list could go on.
I still feel like a normal kid with typical obligations. Sometimes, I even manage to convince myself that things are normal. However, there are days that I realize the kind of situation I’m in. I talk to my friends over the phone for four hours+, just to feel close to them. Today was the first time in two months that I saw their faces in real-life. Though substantially apart and dwelling in our cars, it was such a weird and almost foreign feeling of seeing them in the flesh. It was a split 20 seconds. Having not seen someone physically for so long, for some reason, draws you to every feature of their face you’ve missed. I didn’t realize how much people carry with their physicality. There is just a certain aura that lets you know that they are there and that they see you too. I miss it.
The one lesson that self-isolation has taught me is to not take time for granted. In a way, I almost felt myself to be immune from events. I never thought that there could be a force that put my everyday life on pause for a prolonged period. The coronavirus, as rotten as it is, has put things into perspective. I am not living in a state of normalcy, and I shouldn’t pretend like I am. However, it doesn’t change the fact that when this period does indeed end, there will be a world waiting, ready to move on, and ready to act.
"What do I want to do when this is all over? What do I do when the world calls on me to do something? What dreams have I been holding back and postponing for when I’m “older”? I have learned that things can’t wait. At any second, the whole world can be put to a stop. What could I say I had done while it was still spinning?"