The End of the World as We Know It
My friend Ethan who has been living in Argentina reached out to me a few weeks ago to hear about how things were here in South Korea. I reached out to Allison to hear about whether or not Fulbright was going to be sending her home from the country of Bulgaria. Anneliese, who has been living in Cambodia, recently messaged me that her program had decided to send her back to the United States. My friend Angela who lives in the city of Jingzhou—a 3 hour car ride from the city of Wuhan—finally emailed me this week after months of silence to inform me that she and her family were alive and well.
This is the world we live in now.
I recently read that a billionaire from China is donating 500,000 Coronavirus testing kits and one million face masks to the United States in an effort to better "flatten the curve" (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/14/tech/jack-ma-face-masks-us-donation/index.html). Doctors from China are now arriving in Italy to continue fighting the virus there after months of fighting it in their own country (https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinese-doctors-and-supplies-arrive-in-italy-11584564673). China recently sent boxes of medical masks to Italy as well with a quote from the Roman philosopher Seneca: "We are waves from the same sea" (https://twitter.com/redfishstream/status/1239904490855243776). While China had still been in the beginning stages of battling this disease, too, Japan had sent masks their way with a quote from a Chinese poem: "We have different mountains and rivers, but we share the same sun, moon, and sky" (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/13124309).
This is also the world we live in now.
When I first heard about this virus in Taiwan back in January through a brief exchange with a stranger, I did not think much about it. As I travelled to the Philippines, however, news of the Coronavirus began circulating a lot more frequently around the world. At first, the virus was just background noise in my life. When I returned to South Korea, though, it quickly grew louder. The Coronarvius has now become a deafening roar that no one in the world can ignore. All countries around the world have now been affected by it.
At the end of February, I began checking the number of cases and deaths in South Korea each day through a Coronavirus Map application on my phone. Because I have been living in South Korea for the last 9 months, my focus was primarily on the number of cases that were growing here. After a while, however, I began checking China's numbers as well to see how things were in the country where I first taught English as a second language—I could not help but think about all of my friends there like Angela. As the number of cases began to grow in Italy, my attention and the direction of my prayers was shifted to Europe. Italy has now surpassed China as having the most fatalities in the world from this horrible virus.
Coronavirus tracking website developed by 17-year-old Avi Schiffmann: https://ncov2019.live/
My friend Stefano, who was my roommate during Fulbright orientation, shared with me some of the updates he has been receiving from his family in Italy. His father's side of the family is from the city of Bergamo, which has been the epicenter of the pandemic in Italy. Stefano's grandmother and aunt both reside in Bergamo, where his aunt works as a nurse. Heartbreakingly, the stories in the news are true. Doctors and nurses being forced to choose which patients to attend to and the morgues no longer have space for those who have passed away. In the face of this adversity, however, doctors and nurses are still continuing to fight for their patients to the best of their abilities. I have seen more posts of love and support for these brave medical workers than I ever have before in my life over the last few months—recognition that is well deserved. I would not be surprised if our medical workers around the world were awarded Time's Person of the Year for 2020.
Recognition seems to be an ongoing theme for this unprecedented year that we are all experiencing—recognition of medical workers, teachers, professors, nursing home staff, and all restaurant and grocery store employees who help make our fragile system work. This virus has forced all of us to recognize that we are not alone in the world and that we need each other. What is happening in China truly does affect what is happening in Italy. What is happening in Italy could mean life or death for what is now happening in the United States. Around the world, we are working towards a vaccine because we all need it. Although it has become somewhat of a cliché, we really are all in this together.
This global pandemic has forced all of us to stop for a moment and take inventory of the way we have been living our lives. After a pause like this, our world can never really go back to the way it was. We can never go back to focusing on just ourselves, on just South Korea, Italy, China, the United States, or wherever we call home—we must never go back to thinking that wherever we live is the center of the world because then we really are alone. I have loved hearing from my friends all over the globe throughout the last few months, whether they be in Argentina, Bulgaria, the United States, Taiwan, Cambodia, the Philippines, China, or Italy. It took a global pandemic for all of us to start reaching out to each other and my hope is that we all continue reaching out to one another. My ultimate hope is that this horrible situation gives birth to a beautiful new world—a world where we can better dialogue with one another across our invisible border lines.
Love has always been a risk in our world, and we will always have new obstacles placed in front of us that will try to keep us from choosing love. When I initially chose to stay here in South Korea a month ago, I chose to stay because of love—love for my students and love for my friends here. Now that Fulbright has been cancelled worldwide and the situation in the United States is getting worse, I am choosing to return to be with my family because of love as well. I shared with my friends back in the U.S. a few weeks ago that we cannot be light in dark places if we leave when things start getting dark; now that the situation is getting better here in South Korea, I am choosing to bring some light to my family by being with them throughout these dark times as well.
In many ways, the world as we know it already has ended—this situation has demonstrated that nothing in this life is promised to us—and maybe the world as we know it should end. We can use this ending to usher in a new beginning for our world—a world filled with more love, more compassion, more understanding, and more hope. Never again will we take for granted a smile, a hug, or even a cup of coffee and a meal together in a coffee shop or restaurant. This situation can serve as a reminder to thank our doctors, our nurses, our teachers, professors, nursing home staff, and everyone else in our lives who work for the benefit of others every single day.
Life here in South Korea is already returning to its new normal. I am currently writing this post from a coffee shop in the city that I have been living in for the last 9 months, the city of Jeonju. Just sitting here in this coffee shop feels so much more special than it did a few months ago. I can feel it in the room too; a shared understanding that tomorrow is not promised, that every moment counts, and that we must make the most of today while we are still together. This is our shared hope—together.
I have already experienced my final moments with many of the people who have made this season of life here so special. My heart hurts to say see you later, but I have hope that I will see them again. As I already said, this ending is just ushering in a new beginning for all of us. After all, farewell tears often lead to the most beautiful welcome home celebrations.
As for all that I have learned here in South Korea, I have only just begun to scratch the surface in my posts. Thankfully, I will soon have lots of time to continue writing and creating more videos for all of you to enjoy! This time has only further affirmed my love for telling stories through writing and video. I hope to continue making more videos in the weeks to come of all that I have experienced in my final weeks here in addition to the last two parts of my winter break journey. In all respects, the best really is yet to come.
Before I conclude this post, I want to just take a moment to pause and thank all of you who have been following along with me throughout this entire journey too. I really could not have done this without your love and support, and, of course, without my God Who has gone before me and has always been with me every single step of the way as well. I could cry, just thinking about every single moment that He has made a way for me when there really seemed to be no way. I will close by recognizing Him for all that He is—a "Way Maker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper, Light in the darkness." My God, that is Who you are.
And as I wrote in my goodbye post to all of my students that I will be posting on Facebook because I cannot say goodbye to them in person: 저는 여러분 모두를 너무 사랑하고 여러분 모두가 건강하기를 바랍니다! 가장 어두운 시기에도 항상 희망이 있다는 것을 기억하세요.
"I love all of you so much and I hope you all stay healthy! Remember that there is always hope, even in the darkest times."
James Davisson is just a small man with a big heart, serving a much bigger God.