On a rainy morning, life seemed quiet behind the window, as I sat and listened to the news and thought about the present and the future of humanity. Is it really the end, as predicted by some Hollywood movies and by some researchers and experts in economics and politics who wrote about it? Or is it inevitably the beginning of a new era based on love and hope, in which peace and happiness prevail and the human beings become truly human(e). I was trying to be positive and listen to my heart more than my mind, and to stop thinking only about the issue of quarantine and the number of COVID-19 infected in the world.

Actually, I wanted to be living a dream from which I would wake up soon, but I realized as I looked at the deserted street through the window that the dream was reality. So I decided not to make reality a dream and avoid it, but to live it and write down reality’s details so that humanity will learn from her in the future, a lesson for all of us at the end of this distressing test. So I let my pen fly free to the world and narrate this difficult period in human history.

Said Bahajin, Morocco

Reality, though, can be understood from different points of view. This, I know. I have witnessed it. I have felt it. I have lived it. I have loved it. I have hated it. But I have accepted it… theoretically. I learnt that combining theory and practice is perhaps the greatest challenge and paradox human beings are facing. I know that collectively we are not there yet, but I know we are on our way. I am personally not there yet either, but I am on my way too. And you? Are you on your way too? On the way of peace, of being at peace, of being in peace. Peace is the way. Peace is every step. Peace is every breath.

I used ‘I’ a lot previously, so let me tell you about my reality. Last night, I finally got to hop on a plane and reach New York. The trip was long but I was well

accompanied. I do not remember much now, but I know that when we arrived we didn’t know if to take a taxi or walk. That was ‘a different kind of reality’. It felt like a ‘real fantasy,’ like in GTA Vice City. This is the ‘wondrous world where I like to be.’ Richard Sanderson sang it: Yes, ‘dreams are my reality.’

“What is yours? Please, tell me,” I say to my friends who I connect with over video-call. ‘Go on Forever,’ may this Collective-Story.

Charlotte Ranaivosoa, France- Madagascar

First one to speak is my roommate who is here with me in New York. She shares,

“I came to New York once before and the first thing that I remember is the hard, gray,

concrete. Coming from a place of tall, luscious trees, the smell of cedar, and nature from the fresh rains. I looked around and realized how different the place in New York was from what I was used to. It wasn’t for me, but us humans are adaptable beings, maybe those that grow up in the grayscale of New York concrete feel very much adapted to it. I missed the birds, the mountains, rivers, lakes, clouds up above visible at a great distance, the world of the star nation looking down at us each night.

“Nature is my path to peace, it is peace in its own configurations. The intelligence of Nature, all that belongs to it, and all that is alive because of it is our Creation. We, us, humans, how could we exist without it? Our precious water that gives us life, that gives other species life, that we are part of, that carries the life of another. The gate of creation is our water. In water we form, with water we live, without water we die. When we look at the basics, there is no room for confusion, or fantasy, or what it could be like, it is pretty simple when we go back to our roots. What has happened to our lifeline as human beings?”

Karolina Szulkowski, United States

Through the internet connection comes a different voice. “While here, so far away

from New York, in my flat in Cairo, I am trying to lecture my 4 cats about the

importance of “social distancing,” and they are looking at me as if I am a crazy human! Don’t get me wrong, they don’t think I am crazy because of me being “human,” talking to them being “cats.” No! They think I am crazy because everything I told them about

“social distancing” is what the 5 of us – human & cats – call a “way of life.” So let’s go

through social distancing 101 :

  • Work from home (I have been doing for the last 6 years.)
  • Keep your distance from other people (Duh!! At least 10 meters)
  • No handshakes, no hugging, no kissing (Why would I want to touch other humans?!)
  • Stay home (People go out? Really?!)

“But it appears that applying “social distancing” by choice, is not the same as being forced to apply it. Eventually I catch up with the rest of humanity, I am finally in sync, and boredom starts to creep in. Panic starts to take over and suddenly it all feels like a dream -not the pandemic, not the isolation – but our lives before that. I find myself doing reality checks. Did we actually go out to big malls? Did we go shopping? Did we have birthdays parties and blow out candles? Did we ride trains, buses and planes?

Did I sit in my favorite coffee shop, alone, sipping my coffee and watching the world go by around me? Or was I sitting in my kitchen at home imagining… maybe they should have places where you can sit, sip your coffee, and watch the world go by?”

Rehab Helmy, Egypt

A voice continues. “Here in the confines of my home, sitting at my table, I experience exquisite quality of life. I tend my small garden, grow food in the city for the first time in my life, I love the green leaves unfurling, the air I breathe is so much cleaner and I find less and less need to keep up with the old me. I reconnect with forgotten parts of me, younger perhaps, but definitely more true to my core.

“I still have dreams, they are unsettling at times, a mirror of my old fears, and I at times find it hard to believe that we can return to our collective sense of interbeing, even if it is my most sincere prayer that we will. “At my deepest level interbeing is exactly what I  have known to be the truth of my existence, even when I did not know the word. When I was a child it was the most natural thing to experience, and I am so glad to have found that child still very alive in me. But it is a delicate state of being and I feel my time has not yet come to weather the storm of not-so-like-minded-people and I wonder how I will crack open the shell that leads me to this new, post lock down, existence. Some are going forward at a fast pace, among them my 81-year-old mother. I prefer to go slow. And my cats nod at me…”

Mirjam Ruysink, Netherlands

A friend across the ocean speaks of the past. “Fear kept me from living a life full of joy. After my graduation, and with no job, my mind was constantly filled with ever- changing thoughts, creative and destructive ideas, complex questions and unfortunately (many times) anxiety-ridden feelings. I got worried about everything. I thought something was wrong with my life. I found myself in emotionally and mentally draining situations for days, weeks and sometimes months. Fear stole my joy and allowed dreadful emotions to rule my life.

“I struggled. I thought to myself, I have completed college and I’m not functioning as a person at all. I can’t take care of myself and my family anymore. I’m just having such a hard time and death sounds like a desirable option. I don’t want this sad, terrifying life anymore – everything is too much to handle really. Yes, I didn’t have the fight in me anymore, and yet I was only in my young twenties and life was already too

difficult for me to fix. I just wanted to find a way out and not have to deal with it anymore.

“Gradually and inexplicable (like a prodigal son in the scriptures), I came to my senses (Luke 15:11–32), feelings from within the drive to not be afraid or worried about anything, but to be strong in every situation, with thanksgiving and trust in the creation (Philippians 4:6). I said to myself I am wonderful, I can stand up and be strong. Yes, I found courage to apply for a peace program at the Universitat Jaume I (in Castellón de la Plana Spain). Guess what, I was selected to join the peace family of Castellón de la Plana (International Master in Peace, Conflict and Development Studies). I felt like I was in another world when I thought about my going to Spain in January 2008. In fact, it was my first time to go to Europe, and I was more than excited, actually! However, the excitement of moving abroad for a prestigious masters degree program got overshadowed with an overwhelming feeling of anxiety about having to leave my family (my mum and six siblings). The feeling that my family would struggle in my absence overpowered my spirit with a profound sense of anxiety and fear. I thought I can’t come back every semester to see my family and I have no one to call for help! I was stressed.

How will I settle into a new life in Castellón de la Plana with this situation? I questioned myself. Well, one morning during my hectic process of going to Spain, my mother asked me if we could talk. In fact, she knew that I was stressed up and wanted to pray for me. She reminded me that ‘a faithful person relies on the providence, and not on the comfort of anxious thoughts.’ This was a game changer! I took my mum’s advice and, in a way, I poured out everything that weighed on my mind. That same afternoon, my spirit felt more at ease and I began feeling foolish for even worrying in the first place. Here I was, with a scholarship in my hand, yet I was worried to go!

“What is important in my story is that, although anxious thinking is not unusual, fear certainly affects our ability to live our best life. It is like a thief in the night, stealing our concentration and placing a wedge between our ability to joyously live life. Worry demands our attention which pulls our thought process further away from focusing on the beauty of creation. After all, anxious thoughts are rarely positive. Fear confines our lives to a perpetual state of agony, and worse, anxiety. This does not mean I expect people to never fear or worry again. It would be unrealistic, if I thought so. As flawed humans, we are bound to worry from time to time! However, when we learn to think

about our fears, worries or concerns in the beauty of creation, we can begin to be rest assured that our existence has a purpose, and gradually we can apprehend the ‘thief of our joy’ and free your mind from the imprisonment which fear tends to bring.”

Ludovick Jacob Myumbo, Tanzania

Another voice chimes in. “And yet I am here looking out of the window with fear as the rain turns into a storm, and I begin listening to the news. COVID 19 cases are increasing in East Africa, where the truck drivers enter from neighbouring countries and they are being admitted in our poorly equipped hospitals with only 60 beds with a few ventilators.  They are not even nationals!!! (Thinking to myself).  Our government still does not want to close the borders for fear that our economy will collapse.  How can our leadership compare life to the economy? The latter can be recovered but not human life, when people die, it is forever.  Then I remember how selfish I was being, with regards to the truck drivers from other countries.  My Christian teaching of ‘sharing the little you have’ kicked in and I remembered they are human beings like me and they have a right to life and good health just like me.

“My fears increased when I thought of the majority of the East African population, who are poor and live communally, and social distancing is difficult and cannot afford sanitizers, soap or even water.  This disease will surely spread like the wildfires, like in Australia and the USA, and many people will die, especially the poor. This feeling of fear is not going.  What should I do?  I continue to listen to the news, the East African presidents have a meeting and arrive at an agreement about the truck drivers at the borders. I am relieved that they agree in principle, countries should test their truck drivers before they cross borderlines and take care of those who test positive of COVID 19. One consolation is that our doctors are working hard that there have been more recoveries and no deaths so far.

“I then change the channel to Boomrang and watch Tom and Jerry.  It is refreshing and takes my mind from the COVID 19 pandemic as I continue to stay safe and quarantined.  It goes to show you sometimes you need a distraction from reality in order to cope with reality.  After this I was refreshed and able to see the positive side of COVID 19 pandemic.  These include being able to spend more time with our families, getting to know each other again and understanding the struggles teachers have with our children and appreciate their work with our children.  I realized that we have been

selfish, concentrating on making money and forgetting each other and even hurting each other to get richer and have power. The lesson here for us is to love one another and co- exist peacefully. We should keep in touch as human beings, treat each well and preserve life as much as possible. The sun is now shining.”

Cynthia Komakec, Uganda

We continue to learn more about one another’s pasts as a deep voice speaks up. “I was born in an area where tribal rivalry, the desire for revenge and the never ending blood feud (which could last for generations) was embedded in our culture. Where arms are considered the ornaments of men and honor is the code of life. Trying to change this narrative was a huge challenge for me. In our religion Islam also resolving a conflict is the highest form of charity, Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said! Do you know what is better than Charity, Fasting and Prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind).

“Looking for more opportunities to learn from others about Non-Violence and Peace building I went on a Fulbright fellowship to Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia USA where I came across many inspiring individuals who were working to foster conflict resolution and peace building in their home countries around the world. At EMU I came to know that peace is not just absence of conflict but a genuine sense of security and belonging among people.

“Looking at my Pakistani culture and finding relevant options for change I worked closely with my Restorative Justice Professor Howard Zehr, as our indigenous mechanism for peace building is similar in many respects to the Restorative Justice System. After completing my degree, I did research on our traditional conflict resolution system called Jirga, I also started training the Pakistani police and local elders in the principles of Restorative Justice so they could better understand conflict and try to help break the cycle of violence it would entail. As a result of this work we set up Reconciliation committees which were extended to 32 districts of my province in Pakistan. Apart from this I also wrote four TV plays and wrote four books to raise awareness among my local community about Restorative Justice to address local conflict with local solutions.

“Looking back to my life journey and how rapidly the World is moving towards

Restorative Justice versus the use of the Criminal Justice system. I believe it is the small

steps which matter because “The Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.”

Ali Gohar, Pakistan

We also hear from our friend even further east. “I was racked with panic when the virus started wreaking havoc in China. I was anxious and breathless for the mere fact that my mother is a doctor by profession. She was working in a Tibetan town.

Everything reported on television seems closely relevant to my family. Once there are dubious cases popping up, my mother would be awakened by the phone call from the hospital and swept sleepiness away. Wearing thick protective coveralls and eyewears, she rushed into the room where the “dangerous man” was waiting to be checked. All of us felt reassured when it was affirmed the man was not a virus-carrier. With my fingers crossed, I muttered to myself “She will be safe! She will be safe! The man will be safe!

The man will be safe!”

“My father and I endeavoured to take up cooking seriously and looking for fantastic recipes. Double-cooked meat, roast Beijing duck, Sesame chicken are all awaiting my mom from a one-day exhausting work, both mentally and physically. I love her. I cherish her.

“For the first time, I have genuinely made sense of the connection between a global crisis and our daily lives. Yes, it is impacting us in different ways! Every son or daughter of other medical workers must be as mentally unsettled as I have been for the last two months.

“The peace is not abstract and distant from us for every conscious effort from anyone we know may be contributing to it. Doctors, teachers, activists etc. are all essential for our splendid civilization to function smoothly. Covid-19 will be conquered very soon, I deeply believe in it!”

Guangxinyang Deng Charles, China

Another voice speaks up. “I can still remember the countdown that night on New Year’s Eve; the first news that announced the spread of the virus in China; the very first quarantine experience in my life; the endless online classes; and the first day I got back to school in April… It’s been half a year since 2020. By looking back to the past 6 months, I just can’t believe what we have all been through: the COVID-19, the fire in Australia; the riot in Hong Kong; and the protest now in the US. The world has not been quiet since the start of 2020…

“On the new year eve, I laid in bed imagining what 2020 would be like. I was thinking more of a new start, a brand new chapter in my life. However, the chapter was painted grey and black. Stress, panic, and disoriented were the main themes of my new chapter. I texted one of my friends when I was in quarantine, ‘I wish I could restart 2020’. And I would say that’s what everyone in the world is hoping right now. ‘When  will this crisis end? What can I do as a high-school student to make the situation better?’

These questions keep repeating in my head. I guess that’s something I need to find out in my remaining chapter of 2020, and I am ready to paint them with more colors.”

Alisa, China

“I can still recall the memory when the virus first erupted in Wuhan, China this January. It was the last day of the semester when I heard of the news and I was about to go on vacation with my family. My friends suggested I take a mask in order to protect myself. During the vacation, the virus quickly spread all over the country and we were stuck in our hotel, scanning the horrible news on our cell phone and had no idea what to do. Soon, the school sent the e-mail to inform the delay of returning to the campus, and the Distance Learning Program was quickly built through the Internet. We luckily flew back to our home and I stayed in our house for nearly a month, not going out to meet anyone. Social media became the only way for me to communicate with my friends.

“During the COVID-19 period, I thought through the function of social media. It can help us communicate with our friends, shorten the distance between us, and ease  the panic. However, social media is also a place where rumors and fake news spread. For instance, on Twitter and Facebook, there are some accounts reported on misleading information. We have to take an eye on social media, and to distinguish the information before recklessly believing in them.”

Melinda Huang, China

All of our virtual friends group take in this information, as we simultaneously realize that we are able to connect here virtually. We slowly close our call and share our final thoughts. One final voice who hadn’t spoken before rose above the others. “I can vividly recall the day, the softness of the dim light of my lamp scattering on my phone- screen as I scrolled through WeChat moments. And then it hit me, the news reports on Covid-19. My heart sank. I fell into the sea of panic, drowning, mouth agape, but I couldn’t breath. I was eighteen hours’ flight away from home, in Southern Africa, in my new boarding school, as one of the only three Chinese students in my year-group. I

suddenly felt so lonely, and I couldn’t help crying and blaming myself, feeling guilty about being away from my family and friends at this very moment. The following weeks were hard for me, but I received so much unexpected comfort from new-acquainted friends, from all over the world, from Europe, Africa, and Americas, who would come to my room to keep me company, give me hugs on the way to the canteen, and text me heart-warming messages. That was when the realization came to me that we all live on this planet, despite all the differences, we’re a family, and we, human beings, are going through this pandemic together, survive, live, and thrive.”

My pen has traveled through thousands of miles now, across oceans, over mountains, flying to different continents, countries, cultures, and individuals. The more stories I hear from others, the more convinced I become that humanity is far from the end. Yes, 2020 is surreal and like a horror movie: the global pandemic, lockdowns, social-distancing, deaths…… All these make life seem hopeless. But there are always hopes, just like when we look up at the night sky, there are always stars. Humanity is going through a dark tunnel, and we have to keep going, and be aware:

There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Annie Cheng, China

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