Marian Liou is manager of the LINK leadership program at the Atlanta Regional Commission and founder of the nonprofit We Love BuHi, supporting the multicultural businesses along Atlanta's Buford Highway.
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Marian Liou is manager of the LINK leadership program at the Atlanta Regional Commission and founder of the nonprofit We Love BuHi, supporting the multicultural businesses along Atlanta's Buford Highway.

As millions of Americans stay at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, All Things Considered on Georgia Public Broadcasting is bringing you people's personal reflections on this strange period in history and in our lives. From the safety of their homes where they're sheltering in place, they're recording themselves on their phones or computers and emailing the audio to host Rickey Bevington.

Marian Liou sends this audio postcard about how none of us escape the traumas of life but we can choose what we learn from them.

Marian Liou is manager of the LINK leadership program at the Atlanta Regional Commission and founder of the nonprofit We Love BuHi, supporting the multicultural businesses along Atlanta's Buford Highway. She sends this audio postcard about how none of us escape the traumas of life but we can choose what we learn from them.

Keep listening to All Things Considered for more personal audio essays from people talking about their experiences during the coronavirus and social distancing.

Commentary by Marian Liou

Half-filled moving boxes and half-emptied shelves surround me, and a metal fruit basket hangs from a ceiling vent above the living room couch. I did not expect to be moving during a global pandemic. What will I bring with me out from the Great Pause, or, as I call it, the Great Breaking?

Nearly six years ago now, in a mirror image of today, I was surrounded by half-emptied moving boxes, and shelves half full. My sons and I had just moved into this one bedroom apartment off Buford Highway in the aftermath of another kind of breaking, my divorce.

Then, as now, I could not tell you what day it was. Then, as now, I could not tell you how this ends. Then, just as now, every encounter with another human being presented an existential choice. Will they hurt me? Do they know to keep a safe distance, because divorce might be contagious? Will they recoil from me in disgust, or curse me, because I’m a Chinese American wearing a mask? Are they infected? Am I?

Then, as now, I choose to smile and wave hello. I can’t tell whether it’s to reassure them or myself that I’m safe, harmless, or if it’s because I need to be seen, and have my existence affirmed, by a living, breathing human who is not my child. Maybe I want people to confront the reality that we are all equally vectors, vectors of disease, infection, trauma, but vectors also of goodness, healing, and hope—hope we will make it out of this alive. Perhaps there is something, after all, worth being alive for.

If, as Arundhati Roy wrote earlier this month in the Financial Times, this pandemic is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next, we must be brave above all, honest with ourselves and each other, and imaginative beyond all previous imaginings. Only then will the Great Breaking be a portal to the essential selves we have always carried, yet have deliberately forgotten, denied, hidden, and silenced.

If we could test ourselves for antibodies not only to covid-19 but to all the traumas we have endured, what would our tests reveal? If our so-called immunity passports listed all the antigens to which we’ve been exposed, I hope we would see one another truly, and forgive ourselves and each other more easily, take care of one another with greater kindness, compassion, empathy, and self-recognition.

I hope that out of this Great Breaking we heal. Together.