Grasping for Normalcy

I wake in my dorm, not to the sounds of bathroom doors crashing as per usual, but rather to the soft sounds of birds chirping. It’s a welcome change – but in this moment change does not feel like a friend.

A check of my phone reveals not one, not five, but eleven news notifications relating to the ‘novel Coronavirus’, which itself is apparently another novel I haven’t read.

In my suite’s bathroom my eyes met with a suite-mate’s father’s, eyes that in and with the brief encounter spoke of the abnormality of the situation. If either of us were to look out the window in that moment, 11am on a Saturday, there would be hardly a soul to return our gazes.

I have my first of many appointments today with hand sanitizer.

– –

I’m writing this piece from a new cafe in Charlottesville, Glaze, that specializes in donuts and burgers. I came here to write an essay about the portrayal of homosexual characters in two Arab novels, however four espresso shots did little to shock me into the focus I’m used to controlling.

A large part of me feels careless for daring to go out, but I came anyway. Ironically, I came for a change of pace – but a change of pace that this time I control. In that way it’s a protest, an act of defiance, a statement that my life is still guided by me.

But it isn’t.

– –

I’m a foreign affairs major. I’ve been following politics ever since I could understand what was being said on Fox News from the living-room T.V. Yet, like many others I have a deep sense of exhaustion akin to a runner who doesn’t want to run the next lap of the race – except I’m running knowing that my race never ends.

For a brief period, it seemed as though my voice was being heard. Sanders was the democratic frontrunner, and projected to win the plurality of delegates amid a moderate split in the race. With Biden’s moderate challengers now out of the race, the only normalcy I receive is an absence of the one change I actually desired – and the one change the country arguably needs now more than ever.

I just want to scream.

I’ve felt politically powerless before, but I could tell myself that if I hunker down, focus on my academics and on my languages, I can have a bigger impact on key issues that I care about in my future career. I’m fortunate in that many of those issues were distant from me. I care deeply about the immigration crisis, but I am not an immigrant nor do I live on the southern border.

Yet this pandemic is as close, impactful, and universal as an issue can get, making it all the more maddening that all I can do, the best thing that I can do, is once again hunker down.

– –

Amid disappointments from democratic candidates, voters, and the current administration, I have found hope in the UVA community. Many understand the gravity of the situation, and many have filled my heart with offerings to the community of places to stay, food, and, yes, toilet paper.

Never has it been more apparent in my life that my decisions matter, especially locally. Doing my part in helping to contain this virus means that less people around me will suffer and die. Even if I can’t personally stop the international spread of the virus, I can do my part to stop my friends and family from getting the virus.

When this piece is done, I hope to return to Grounds, practicing social distancing and, for once, feel like I’m having some kind of impact.

For all of those like me who feel like they haven’t been able to change things around you, this is your chance. Do your part in your community, encourage others to do the same, and we can do what the folks in D.C can’t.

– –

Among the stark change, I try to hone in on the continuities.

Walking through Brown’s tunnels still produces a desire to pull every fire alarm on sight.

Lo-fi hip hop still fills my room, mixing with the cold air of the night and the aroma of my candle to put me at ease.

My Spanish journal still welcomes my joys, pains, and grammatical errors.

And I still have friends by my side (read: at least six feet away per CDC guidelines) to get through it all.