Life on the Other Side of the Virus

Kevin Ssonko '20, Student Senate President

It’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with the news these days. Even harder to come to grips with the realities of the new world that we are all living in. Even harder still to come to terms with what the broader implications of the pandemic will mean for the world going forward. It seems we are living in the third or fourth week of this crisis, the third or fourth week of endless articles with similar titles on my Facebook timeline, the third or fourth week of updates from the White House, the third or fourth week of not knowing when this is going to end.

In thinking on these things my mind has recently drifted to think about the nature of shared nightmares. And in many ways I think of the COVID-19 pandemic as a shared nightmare. News of thousands dead seems normal now. News of thousands more to die makes me callous. None of this feels new to life in America, just the closeness is new. We’ve heard of thousands dead before, I grew up hearing news of thousands dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. I came of age to the news of black men dead in inner cities, as a young man I heard the news of my peers dying. Death is everywhere when you live in the Empire, the cause of death is always the same even when it’s different. Ignorance, hubris, injustice, even as the Trump administration mismanages the pandemic the cause of death still sounds the same. And so I sink deeper into the shared nightmare. I try to social distance, I say goodbye sooner than I thought, I hear the news, I try to stay human.

I hear my peers express fear and distress for the future. They express it on social media and over Zoom conversations. Somehow when we talk the death seems far again, a conversation piece, something to argue over. We share the nightmare. In my heart, I know that I am speaking out of turn when I share my thoughts. I am one of the lucky ones in the nightmare. The world was a nightmare before COVID-19, but no one seems to talk about that, only as a conversation piece. The vulnerable have always lived in the nightmare. I wonder inside if anyone counts their dead. I know that this virus won’t hurt me. I know that while I am in the nightmare, I am not the subject of the nightmare, I try to do my part to help us wake up from the nightmare. Many in America are not a part of the nightmare. But we do get to share in it. We have always gotten to share in it. On TV, in intellectual magazines, on Instagram stories, the news of the dead and dying are not new. But this time it feels close, the six degrees of separation have been cut down to a 1 to 1 ratio. Friends of friends, parents, siblings, the nightmare is close and it doesn’t go away.

I, like many of us, want to wake up from this bad dream that has almost always existed. The ones responsible for the nightmare stand unjudged and untouched by fate. Millionaires and Billionaires throw their pennies in the offering basket of American poverty as it strikes one of its most devastating blows and I am asked to be grateful. The president and his elected counterparts throw their pennies at the poor and they are asked to be grateful. The truth is laid bare for all to see. The weight of American power was a dream and the virus woke us up to the nightmare. It was all so fragile the whole time. How foolish we were to think it could all be held together.

The virus is neither alive nor dead, but yet it still speaks, and with its words, it tears apart our known reality. The Empire was too weak for the virus, and so it chose the nightmare for us all. While I feel pain now I know that I am fine. I think of all those who weren’t so lucky and who won’t be so lucky. The Iraqi, the n*gr*, the native, the nobodies, of whom the nightmare was always a reality of which no one was granted liberty to wake.

So I take this time to share in the collective nightmare and resist it alongside those who have lived in the nightmare much longer. I hope to wake from this nightmare in a world fitter for human beings. The nightmare we are all sharing has stopped the world as we knew it, I hope to come to know a better one when we all wake up.