The author of A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner imagines the lessons future generations will learn from our response.
My head these days is sometimes a beehive of thoughts pingponging off one another. Some are personal: what if food runs out, what if my wife or my mother or my kids fall ill? Others are bigger concerns, for my community, my city, my country, and frankly, my species. The result is that I feel a tad off-kilter all the time, searching for terra firma. This, writing the thoughts down, is how I’ve tried to put order to them, to extract some sense and meaning from their at times unrelenting onslaught. So.
The other day, we zoomed with my brothers and their kids, my sister, my sister-in-law Sandy. I had never used Zoom until Corona forced my hand, so the whole ‘everyone talking over one another’ thing is a new experience for me. I was decidedly the confused Boomer in the group, but I was happy to see the faces of these people I love, especially the kids, my nephews Jake, Alex, Camron, and Alec. Jake and Alex are 12 and 9. Cam is 17, Alec 14. I talked with them about online school, video games, a Korean zombie movie they’ve seen many times, our uncertainty about the 49ers’ offseason so far — as if, come September, we would be group-texting one another again on Sundays over some missed Pass Interference call or an acrobatic sideline back shoulder catch.
Watching my nephews’ paneled faces on my screen, I wondered if they realize yet that they will be telling their kids and grandkids about all this. My nephews will grow up to become the dads who will say to their children, ‘I lived through The Pandemic.’ They will not have to say which one — at least, God Almighty, I hope not. My nephews’ kids will know. Everyone will know. And when they speak the words — The Pandemic — they will think of it like that, capitalized. My nephews’ children will know because they will have taken first steps and uttered first words in a world borne of our current ordeal — and all that is to come, as yet unknown to us as I write this. My nephews’ kids will struggle to remember a time when The Pandemic wasn’t a fact of their universe, as permanent as mountains and stars. They will be made to pen essays about it in history class. They will study the virus in Biology. Learned people will stand at podiums and point them to graphs showing the devastating handiwork of the novel Coronavirus on our economy, our healthcare system, how it photo-bombed every national conversation around immigration, economic policy, climate change. They will be taught every imaginable statistic: how many of us fell to the virus, how many of us lost jobs, how many of us homes. They will know, also, how we overcame Covid-19 in the end, and how long it took us, and what it cost us. I fear they will know that it cost us too much, in the final tally, likely far, far too much.
They will be raised with poems, novels, and plays about The Pandemic. They will know the songs. They will watch Oscar statues awarded to films inspired by this calamity. There will be operas for them to see, musicals to memorize lyrics from, giant murals to gaze at and walk past. Governments around the world will build memorials to honor the dead. Popes will give sermons. The world will agree to an international Observance Day, and on that day my nephews’ future kids will be happy to skip class, like children have time immemorial. For them, what still lies in wait for us will be the past that shaped their present. They will come of age in a world that took a turn early in 2020 and was never quite the same again. They will know.
I wonder what the history books that my nephews’ children will be taught will say about us. How will we fare on those pages? What values, what priorities, will they say we clung to in the glare of this fight, with our backs to the wall and our fragilities laid out coldly before us? Will my nephews’ children read that we bested the frailties of our nature and rose to the occasion to act globally, as a united species, to battle in solidarity against a ruthlessly indifferent enemy? Will their books say that the Coronavirus forced upon us a rebirth, that after the wave crashed and we came up for air, we emerged from this great trial a battered people, but also a wiser people, perhaps a kinder people, a humbled people, a little more willing to understand, to listen, more willing to approach our differences with curiosity and respect? Or will they say that we fell to the old familiar trappings, fear, avarice, cancerous tribalism? My nephews’ children will know. They will know if we confronted this blight with valor or cowardice, with compassion or cruelty. They will know if we allowed the virus to claim too many of us. They will know whether we saved or failed the vulnerable among us, the disabled, the elderly, the sick, the homeless, the stateless, the refugee, the poor, the disenfranchised, the hungry. We will not be able to obfuscate my nephews’ children. They will know.
But it is not too late. The pages of those history books are sitting blank today. What words fill them is up to us. We will decide. We will decide what my nephews’ children will learn, in the coming days, weeks, months, and beyond. This is not an American struggle. It is not a Chinese or Italian or Spanish struggle. As Tennyson said, it may be that the gulfs will wash us down, but in this time of historical, collective strife, I pray our leaders see the wisdom of spearheading our every effort with this simple and irrefutable truth: we are in a human struggle. Let that be our guiding light and banner in this battle. Perhaps then, one day, we shall touch the Happy Isles again.
I leave you with spare but essential words: Wash your hands. Stay home. Heed the expert, not the politician. Look out for yourselves and one another. Be patient. Take heart. Have hope.
God bless you all.
Khaled Hosseini, MD ’93, was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and moved to the United States in 1980. He is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed. Hosseini is also a U.S. Goodwill Envoy to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the founder of The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a nonprofit that provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. This piece was originally posted on Hosseini’s Facebook page, reprinted with permission.