As I write this article, I’m not at home. It feels weird saying this because with the ongoing global pandemic, I had not actually gone beyond a three mile radius of my house for months. Right now, though, I’m looking out the window of an Amtrak train watching the scenery of New York fly past me. For the past two days I’ve been on a train. Starting in California and spending the layover in Chicago, I now sit patiently on the final leg home.
How did I get here? Well, in the midst of a global pandemic, my family lost a loved one. The virus just made everything about the situation more complicated, leaving my family scrambling to travel 3,000 miles. It’s just so much harder to give loved ones a sense of comfort from far away at this time.
My mother, grieving and recovering from a surgery to repair a torn ACL, insisted that we take the train to be with family at this time. Since the doctor did not allow her to fly, we embarked on a three-day train ride to Newport Beach, California. Everything happened so quickly. As I stood in the ghost town that was Penn Station, I could not fathom that I was about to take a train across the country.
On our trip out, I didn’t realize how scared I actually was until I was sitting in my chair, triple checking that my mask was on my face and that I was a safe distance away from other passengers. After the nerves started to settle, I found myself amazed at all the stories that the train held. Everyone was traveling to a different place for a different reason and it felt bittersweet knowing that we were just passing in and out of each other’s lives, like the scenery we passed.
Being in California during a global pandemic after the loss of a family member was difficult to say the least. She was a light, my Aunt Lee. How much joy she carried with her even during her last days is something so special that I have never seen before. She brought our family together from New York all the way to California and is the glue that continues to hold us now.
And something had to hold us and our country together. Because we were all about to mourn the loss of something else - our peace.
As we dealt with loss in our family, it was even more shocking to see that the death of George Floyd spurred mourning all over the nation. Social distancing and quarantine at the beginning of the trip, one of my biggest worries, seemed to fade away as people gathered in large groups and ignored the curfews set by states.
People of all different backgrounds, genders, and races all came together to use their voices to fight for one common goal: justice and equality. This shared belief was so strong that protests and riots erupted in response to the unnecessary death of another black person. Immediately, I recognized that this would be much bigger than just Floyd’s death. Still I felt so far removed from the entire situation, as if I were skimming through a chapter in an AP US History textbook that was my life.
Just an hour from Los Angeles, our eyes remained glued to the screen as we watched police officers spray tear gas and shoot rubber bullets at protestors. Seeing the violence and realizing that we would have to be in L.A. by the end of the week to return home, we rearranged our route to get picked up at a stop earlier and closer to Newport Beach.
A few days later on the way home, we passed through Albuquerque, New Mexico. We had slept for most of the night, and the train didn’t have any WiFi, so our knowledge of the nights’ protests was limited.
Suddenly as we arrived at the station, I didn’t even realize that tears were welling in my eyes as the sight of a graffitied building came into view. In big black letters it read: I can’t breathe.
Stepping out to stretch at the station, my mom and I saw the eerie peace that lay over the city of Albuquerque. The police cars that were left loitering on Central Avenue and the remnants of spray painted walls and broken glass windows left me speechless. Even though the streets remained bare, I could almost hear the chants, see the nameless faces yelling and screaming for justice, for peace.
As I sit here now, in the middle of Syracuse, I see not only how my life has changed in a matter of 12 days, but also how the world has changed. We went from learning how to survive a pandemic to witnessing nationwide civil unrest.
Everything has just been a whirlwind, that’s really the best way I can describe it. One moment I am sitting in my bedroom, my daily outing being a walk with my dog. The next I am across the country, feeling connected to family. And in yet another as far apart as ever from the world’s events.
But even in this time of chaos, we need to find unity even when we are urged to keep our distance. We need to recover and not just move on, but make things better.
I am still in shock about how this week and even the past few months have turned out. And the events of this past week make it even harder to grasp the fact that I am living through two monumental moments in history. We all are.