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A journey toward gratitude

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On that Friday night all those weeks ago when we received the email to leave Stanford as soon as possible, I was unsettled by the idea that my sophomore year could face such dramatic change so quickly. I left campus a few days later to head home, but the surprise of sudden upheaval continues to shock me.

Before I begin my story, I must first acknowledge the privileged situation I encounter at home. I’m lucky to live with both my parents and younger siblings, whom I love very much. I have a house to live in and more than enough food on the table every night. I have access to WiFi and a personal computer. I’m able to walk around my neighborhood to wave at the neighbors I’d never actually met before this month. I live near my grandmother’s senior living community, so I can drop off flowers and groceries outside her building to be delivered to her. I have an online community of friends and a blossoming network of virtual support. In these moments when I first arrived home, I reminded myself of these luxuries that I too frequently take for granted. I did, however, ironically fail to recognize the privilege of our health.

As with all students, returning home along with online classes and an uncertain future brought about strange oddities I’d never really considered before. I’d certainly never thought about the amount of times I open a restaurant door, press an elevator button or squeeze past people in the supermarket; even more strangely, I’d never realized how many people I come in contact with on a typical day. Beginning this life of quarantine was, for lack of a better term, just weird. 

Spring break managed to go by much faster than I’d anticipated. Even with this new free time, I struggled to find the motivation to finally clean out the messy cabinets or finish the art projects I used to be really excited about. I didn’t even revisit my hobbies from high school. As I think about it now, I’m not really sure how I spent all that time, although a lot of it was with my three younger siblings. 

I’d been looking forward to spring quarter classes to reintroduce structure and meaning into my shelter-in-place experience. But, when they finally began, I didn’t gain that clarity I’d been seeking. Week 1 of the online quarter was hard. I lacked the effort to do class readings, take notes in my Zoom lectures or join online meetings with clubs that enliven my daily life on campus. I couldn’t fall asleep at night. I was stuck in a lull of a loss of purpose. I’d failed to ignite that spark of energy that not only fuels my passion in classes but also brings intention and meaning into my routine.

All of this changed last Friday afternoon. I’d been sitting in my room with the door propped open, half-listening to an online lecture, when I saw my mom fall down the stairs. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen something so out of place that it’s impossible to believe. This was one of those times. Somehow — I don’t know how — one of my brothers threw a phone in my hand to call 911, the other ran to us after hearing the thump and my sister called my dad to rush home. Within moments, the paramedics arrived, and my mother was soon taken away in the ambulance. She hadn’t been breathing right. She complained of incredible pain in her back. My family stood by, absolutely terrified. Because of COVID-19, we were unable to go with her and still cannot visit her.

My mom has been in the hospital for over a week now. Along with a broken hand and many bumps and bruises, she fractured several thoracic vertebrae in her spine. I’m profoundly grateful that her spinal cord was unharmed. 

That first night, my siblings and I looked at each other with tear-filled eyes during our too-intimate Shabbat dinner. The next few days continued in this strange manner. As we were unable to see our mom, our family stayed busy by cooking and walking together. We didn’t hear much from the doctors, or from my mom. We did, however, hear from our community as countless family and friends reached out asking to help and offer support. That love hasn’t waned in the last week; I receive phone calls every day asking how my mom is doing, asking how my siblings and I are doing. We are very lucky.

These days have brought a new kind of uncertainty. Now, I don’t know when my mom will be able to come home. She’s gotten better and stronger every day, but I don’t know how her recovery process will look. I don’t know what we can do to help her. This kind of uncertainty is far scarier than not knowing when I’ll be able to go back to campus.

Miraculously, the second week of spring quarter flew by much faster and far better than the first. Between my home and school responsibilities, my purpose has become to do the best I can for my family and for my mom. I’ve rekindled the motivation that had been lost, and I’ve reignited my desire to learn. More importantly, the past week has gifted me with reflection. 

Most often, people have told me, “Oh no! What horrible timing for such a tragic accident.” And initially, I’d believed that too. Like them, I couldn’t believe that the coronavirus situation could become even more complicated. But, after spending the past week connecting with my siblings, FaceTiming my grandma, offering my dad a shoulder for support and sending my mom messages of hope, I’ve reconsidered how thankful I am to be home during such a difficult time. 

COVID-19 has brought immense tragedy to the world and has exposed our society’s deepest pitfalls. It has exacerbated the issues our world already struggled with. And it is through this lens that I choose to see my silver lining of the pandemic: It has brought the people in my life together. My family has received immense support during a time that is incredibly difficult for all. People who haven’t left their homes in over a month have repeatedly offered to bring us groceries. Friends have asked us which day we’d prefer for home-cooked dinner to be delivered. Unexpected acquaintances have put us in contact with neurosurgeons to review my mom’s case. In regards to my academic experience, I’ve felt blessed by the opportunity for online learning. 

Any other time, I wouldn’t have been able to simultaneously pursue my studies at Stanford and support my family during one of the most difficult times we’ve faced. Undoubtedly, this whirlwind of an ordeal will shape me. There will be times when I’m overwhelmed by worry and fear, and that’s okay. Through the dense fog of the coronavirus, I’m deciding to focus on the opportunity for growth. The virus has brought into focus what really matters in my life; it’s what enables me to be with my family during a scary time. Instead of lingering on the frustration of what I cannot change and of what I do not know, I’m striving for gratitude for what has become so much more clear amidst this chaos. 

Contact Zohar Levy at zlevy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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