A dull headache began banging in my skull during my family’s Christmas party. Soon after, my throat ached with irritation and my sinuses had become a desert. I had COVID-19.
For better or for worse, no one will ever forget 2020. Anything deemed nonessential was closed, the whole world was in quarantine and the government announced strict bylaws banning any meetings between people from different households. I live in a multigenerational household with my elderly grandparents, and my stomach churned at the mere thought of how much havoc COVID-19 could wreak in my house.
One would imagine that my grandparents, who have a whole list of pre-existing health issues, would be tyrannical about taking every possible precaution. Surely, they understood how dangerous this virus could be, right?
Their priorities were skewed. Family always came first to them. Despite the threat of a deadly disease, my grandparents regularly chose to throw caution to the wind and regularly invite my relatives to come over. Each visit was a gamble, a roll of the dice on whether this would finally be when our luck ran out.
Family is unbearably hard to hate. These are the same people who raised me with a surplus of love, but I struggle to view them with the same untainted adoration that I did as a child. COVID-19 acted as a catalyst for my realization that had somehow remained invisible for 17 years.
I saw whose voice was being thrust to the sidelines to make others comfortable. No one likes to acknowledge the real world when it does nothing but ravage one’s little utopia, but by refusing to recognize reality, someone could absolve themselves of any responsibility. How can you be guilty of something if you were completely unaware it was happening?
My family’s lack of caution was not connected to the abundance of conspiracy theories at the time or any belief that COVID-19 was a hoax. Instead, it stemmed from their faith. They’re a very religious bunch. Their arrogance was built upon the presumption that their piousness would keep them safe. In their eyes, this virus was a warning from God that society was on the wrong path.
As a child, my bedtime tales were stories from the Quran, and plagues were a common way in which one way God liked to express his frustration with humanity.
I have an unsettlingly vivid memory of my uncle talking about how this pandemic was from God for the disbelievers. It was a Friday afternoon and I was sitting on the ground, pressing my palms against the rough texture of the carpet as he delivered the sermon. It lasted an eternity. When he began to explain how this pandemic was a sign from God, I bit my lip to hold back my laughter (and slight irritation). It all sounded like nonsense. Who were we to judge? His gruff voice rang through the room, making it impossible to block out. A stark metallic taste filled my mouth when he said those words.
About a month later, my entire family got COVID-19.
It was during Christmas dinner that my initial symptoms began, and during which we all probably spread the virus to each other. The irony continues to mount when I remember we have never had a Christmas dinner before. Why? Because we don’t celebrate Christmas. I have absolutely no idea why we decided to start in the middle of a pandemic. One second I’m sitting at the dinner table, and the next I have a swab being rammed up my nose, I’m getting calls from concerned relatives and a wave of overwhelming anger is consuming me.
In total, nine of us were sick.
My family thought it would be fun to play the blame game: who brought home the virus? A storm of accusations hit my phone in the form of WhatsApp messages. All I could hear was my phone’s blaring buzzing. I quickly gave up on reading the messages as each one suffocated me with nausea and anxiety. It was pointless. All the adults in my life felt so immature and I wanted to give them a lecture at the ripe old age of 17. Instead, I chose to curl up underneath my blanket and let the COVID fog numb my brain.
If everyone had simply owned up to their actions, my illness could have been at least tolerable. They, however, once again chose to conveniently burden someone else with the consequences. I was left with an ocean of ambiguous feelings about my family. How do you move forward with someone after that? What’s to say they won’t do it again? People rarely ever learn from their mistakes when they’re not held accountable for them. Perhaps it’s not my responsibility to fix this division. Maybe it’s up to my family, or whoever initially created the conflict by spreading harmful misinformation about COVID-19, throwing parties during quarantine, attending anti-mask protests or whatever else they’ve done. It should be up to them to own up and realize their wrongdoing; otherwise, their actions won’t change. They need to take the first steps to right their wrongs.
Although these memories have been stuck in my head ever since, they were pushed to the side with a relatively calm return to campus in term one. Sure, I spent most of it refusing to take off my mask even when I was completely alone and sanitizing my hands raw, but it was fine.
Term two, however, had a rather shaky start. Thanks to the Omicron variant, UBC announced that the first month of classes would be online. The news was met with some backlash: I remember one student even chose to convey their frustration by sending AMS executive Eshana Bhangu a malicious email, blaming her for the decision.
Suddenly those old questions sprang to the forefront of my mind as they became relevant to my community. Initially, I was also upset with courses being online, but then I wondered if this was the only option for other students to safely attend classes. Did the person who sent the email think about how their message disregarded the voices of those more vulnerable? If we had come back to school and cases had soared, who would have suffered the most?
Would anyone have been held accountable?
The pandemic continues to highlight divisions in our communities and social circles. Perhaps it can provide an opportunity to reflect on whether something simply being an inconvenience to you is a privilege and whether you need to mend any bridges you’ve recently set on fire.