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COVID-19: Coming home to myself

Lately I’ve felt like an animal — one who crawled into the earth in 2019 and forgot to wake up. Alarms blared and millions died and life became confined to small spaces and still I slept, sweetly dreaming of tomorrow, or the next day, when the world would begin to turn again.

When I did emerge, it was only partly, like I had forgotten half of myself in the dark. I drove to Tukwila, took a train to Capitol Hill, and skated around the many faces staring back at me, the ones that seemed to say, “We’re still asleep, too.” I bought coffee from a man who told me that his mother died last week, and the words stuck in my throat like molasses, sticky and fat, refusing to perfume the air between us, because in all my time away they had forgotten how to be genuine: I’m sorry.

The world has become both otherworldly and recognizable. Time crawls smugly by, moving and shaking, and I have forgotten how to measure it. I catch sight of myself in windows while I walk, and see that I am 30. 

Feeling alien and sideshow, I want to turn to the nearest human being and demand to know when that happened to me. I want to shout at them so loudly that time scrapes like rust from my bones, turning me new again. 

There is a poem by Danusha Laméris called “Small Kindnesses.” I have it pinned to the bulletin board above my home desk, in my home office — in my home world away from everyone else — where for the past two years I have perfected sprouting galaxies between me and my neighbors.

Throughout the day, I find myself looking up to read it again. “We have so little of each other, now,” it says to me. “So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, ‘Here, have my seat,’ ‘Go ahead— you first,’ ‘I like your hat.’”

Lately, the world has been trying to spin again. Needles drive into arms, bodies move closer together. A man offers me his seat on the train without fear of passing me by, without wondering if I could be the proverbial bullet in the chamber, the one he had managed to avoid since the pandemic began. Humanity stumbles over the line between isolation and contingence, wondering which side will catch it, and I stand uncertain of which way to push. 

I believe that we have entered a new iteration of being. I believe that we have learned new ways of being hungry. I believe that we are coming home to ourselves, made small and slight by our years apart, and must be patient. Small kindnessess, like offering your seat on the train to someone who you did not and do not owe anything to, make thrones for themselves now, where before they stood forgotten, left in a cloud of exhaust on the street corner. 

I like to think that, by this time next year, spring will have a new meaning. I like to think it will be an awakening for more than just green and good things. 

Maybe the earth will shake off the ghosts of our collective past lives, the ones still lingering in stasis and home offices and small bright screens with Zoom logos for faces.  That we will all pack ourselves together like sardines again, with Zeppelin playing too loudly in our earbuds, and be so much more cognizant now of the people around us, our tribe and fire, because we know what it is to live without them.


Sarah Wheeler

Sarah is the Arts & Culture Editor and a writer for the Seattle Collegian, as well as a student of Seattle Central College, and intends to pursue her MFA in Creative Writing once finished with her BA. She has a deep fascination, bordering on obsession, with all the many things that make us human and the conditions and complexities therein, and tends to lean into these in her writing. When not buried in text or staring at the blinding light of a word processor, Sarah is enjoying films, books, and video games, as well as exploring the beauty that Washington has to offer.

One Comment

  1. Katarzyna Kurczinowa Saturday, March 12, 2022

    This op-ed left be stunned and speechless, honestly, Miss Wheeler’s writing has always been my favorite, I’ve loved her book reviews with the way she captures the essence of the narratives so well yet leaves it up to the reader to search for more! I hope we can find our tribes and fires more often,
    Thank you!

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