A matter of history

03 Apr 2020

‘You know, I have always complained that no major historical events have happened in our lifetime. Now this is really not what I imagined,’ said my best friend on the phone the other day. For a few months now, we’ve been phoning each other once a week. A tradition established a while after she moved back to Germany, while I stayed in Nijmegen. Now, we’re both back in Germany. And phoning has long substituted not only our coffee dates of the past, but those of a lot of people all around the globe.

I learned that the World Health Organisation had officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic on the morning of the 12th of March. I had just arrived at Frankfurt main station, waiting for my next connection. A few hours prior, my mother had called to tell me that my grandmother had passed away. So all I thought about was getting back home. To be with my family. At least for the weekend, about to return to Nijmegen the following Monday.

Obviously, by the time it was announced, the pandemic didn’t come as a surprise. And headlines lose a good amount of relevance if you’re occupied with navigating your personal problems. But I do remember waiting for my train and looking around the platforms I must have walked a hundred times. One of the usually busiest German stations was almost entirely deserted. When I finally got on my train, I already knew that I wouldn’t return to Nijmegen on Monday.

The rest is history. Or at least that’s what it will probably become one day. For now, it only is a never-ending news rotation and a massive flow of information. None of which, of course, will predict a certain outcome. I keep telling myself that pandemics are best sat out in tiny German villages, with family and a proper coffee machine. But who knows?

It’s easy to make the right decision in retrospect. But that’s unfortunately not the timeline in which we are situated. All we really can do is try to make the best-to-our-knowledge decisions in the present. Unfortunately, those are also most often the hardest. There won’t be a proper funeral service for my grandmother. Only the closest family members. Too many people otherwise. It’s the price to pay for protection of the most vulnerable. ‘Yes, historic events in our lifetime,’ I said to my friend on the phone. ’You should be careful what you wish for.’

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