The coronavirus had been on my mind since early January because I was scheduled to go to Thailand for vacation and work in February, and I was unsure if I should or would be able to go. I carefully watched each day as cases and deaths in China continued to rise, and held my breath expecting Thailand, a favorite holiday spot in Asia, to be next on the chopping black of the now named Covid-19. Challenge after challenge marred plans for the trip. My dad’s hospitalization, my shifting work schedule. But somehow, the universe knew I needed to be granted this one last trip before our lives would change drastically, and I worked out a plan for the trip to move forward for vacation and work, and my brother and sister-in-law came with me.
My flight on February 15 was the first time that I was confronted with the pains of the coronavirus. As my flight took off, I noticed that the young Chinese man next to me was crying, and I offered him a listening ear. He then told me about how he was scared because he was flying back to China through a multi-leg journey from Boston. How he had to go home because of a family emergency that he as an only child had to attend to, but that the province his family was from was hard hit by the coronavirus and he was unsure what he was going home to. He had packed 100 masks for the journey, kept assuring himself out loud that his glasses would protect his eyes, and visibly shook when he talked about not knowing when he would ever return. He wept most of our trans-Pacific flight.
When we arrived in Japan, our common point of transit, I watched as we were separated due to his final destination and the airport workers needing to question him further on his travel footprints. As I did in the plane, all I could do was witness. To pray that he would not only get to his Chinese home safely, but that he would also see his American home again one day.
I think about this encounter often. How this young man was flying toward his family. That he would be with them through the worst.When we were in Thailand, we wore masks in crowded places, washed our hands feverishly, and disinfected every surface we encountered. We were worried, but we were headed home after. We just needed to transit across the ocean.
I didn’t know that vacation would be the last time I would see any family before the tsunami waves of a pandemic hit. I didn’t know that when I went home in February to see my dad that I wouldn’t know the next time I would fly back across those plains . And with each month that I had a trip planned to go home, the time grows longer.
I call. I text. Our days are similar and yet so different. We dream about the moment when the distance will be lifted.