Mom, dad, me and millions of hearts with one mind

Mom, dad, me and millions of hearts with one mind

Zhang Ruiru

Dept. of Foreign Languages and Literatures, School of Humanities,Tsinghua University

I came back to Wuhan on January 10th and within two months, a lot of things happened and now I could finally sit down and talk about it.

I watched my Dad close the door. It was a cold night in dead silence and I was all alone at home.My parents left because they had been running fevers for several days and they were showing other symptoms of COVID-19. It was January 31st, the 7th day of Wuhan lockdown.

I was born and bred in Wuhan for 18 years and moved to Beijing two years ago to study at Tsinghua University. Wuhan is a lovely city where people lead a vibrant life. In Beijing, I have always been craving for the Hot Dry Noodles(热干面)in Wuhan, and really loud conversations in Wuhan dialect popping up on the street.

But as I stood in our home on the 31st of January, all that was gone. Before I arrived home for the Spring Festival, my parents and I had talked about making sure we took a really good family photo during the holiday. The virus we now know as COVID-19 is regarded as being so fearsome partly because it does not discriminate in choosing who it infects. But that is only partly true. All the evidence suggests that it can be merciless with older people, and now I was wondering whether my parents would make it home and whether we would ever take that photo.

When they left home I cried the whole night, and until I learned that they had settled down in the hospital I got hardly any sleep. For the first time in my life I was alone and isolated, with no one to talk to or to laugh with. Don’t get me wrong: I can be very independent if I want to be. I can cook, I can do the laundry, and of course like any young Chinese I can buy things online. But I now realized that I had no idea how to live without my caring parents.

On their second day away my parents called and asked me how I was. We talked using FaceTime, and the moment I saw mom lying there wearing an oxygen mask and dad being unable to talk without taking very deep breaths, I knew I had to be able to live on my own. At that instant I realized that the responsibility for our family that had for years lain heavily on my parents’ shoulders had passed onto mine. All I could do was support my parents and make sure they didn’t worry about me as they received treatment. And for the first time I realized how much I love them.

Over the next few days and weeks I discovered that many others had experiences similar to mine. About two weeks after my parents went into hospital, I came over with a fever and now I had to go into quarantine and be put under medical observation for 14 days. Fortunately, my illness turned out to be due to a bacterial infection and not COVID-19.

Not surprisingly, those under quarantine were very anxious. On day I and some other people arrived, some of us felt incredibly uneasy about being totally isolated and began to wonder whether this was where we would die. Everything was hectic, there seemed to be a shortage of medical staff and materials were in short supply.

Even though the doctors and nurses were all covered from head to toe, I could tell how tired they were when I looked into their bloodshot eyes. They would work a whole day preparing what they could for new patients and seemed incredibly apologetic for not having everything that was needed.

Most of the patients were very understanding, but of course there were those who were not, and complained loudly, but the nurses and doctors did their very best to deal with them in a calming way. Most of the medical staff were from other cities around the country, including Shanghai and Guangzhou, and some were only three or four years older than me.

One thing I would not forget is one day apart from our lunch set, we had Hot Dry Noodles. I was extremely happy when I saw it. For people in Wuhan, Hot Dry Noodles is an indispensable part of our lives and after the lockdown, we were not able to buy any and we missed it so much. Then I knew that it was a volunteer from Shenzhen who prepared that for all patients because he happened to know that we loved Hot Dry Noodles and he hoped this would make us feel at home.

I’m sure all these medical staff were absolutely exhausted, and I’m sure they must have been afraid of being infected, but they did not show it. When the quarantine was over, all the patients effusively thanked the staff for all they had done, but in all cases the answer they received was essentially the same: “That’s what we’re here for.”

Chinese have always demonstrated a strong sense of unity in the face of challenges. I’m a real millennial girl, born in 2000. When I was three, I could sing the national anthem and first encountered the word 万众一心", which in at least one translation of the anthem is rendered as “millions of hearts with one mind”.

In 2008 when I was 8 I learned the meaning of “一方有难,八方支援”, referring to help arriving from all directions, when I saw people around the country do whatever they could do to save others’ lives in the Wenchuan earthquake.

It's only now, at the age of 20, that I fully appreciate what those words mean. Everyone in China has stood up as one to fight COVID-19. Medical workers from all over the country descended on Wuhan to help their compatriots. Resources including food were sent to the city from all over China. And, most importantly, hundreds of millions of people stayed at home to help prevent the virus from spreading. I’m so proud that people in my country have all joined in this collective effort.

It’s natural to fear illness, the unknown and death, and it’s natural to feel compassion when we see others suffering. That instinct and love towards others can turn the most timid of souls into fearless warriors, ready to bear the toughest responsibilities, even at risk to their own lives, to help others. In this fight against COVID-19, we can see that spirit shining in medical people, volunteers, bus drivers, restaurant owners and countless others.

In the early days of Wuhan’s woes, aid flooded in not just from around China, but from around the world, too. COVID-19 has since become a pandemic, and now China is drawing on its experience, expertise and resources to help other countries who have a tough battle ahead.

What we are living through now is undoubtedly horrible, with a pandemic the likes of which has not been seen for more than 100 years. But at the same time I choose to be optimistic. I celebrate the 万众一心 around the world who are working to help their compatriots, and with them I look forward to the day when COVID-19 is defeated.

I have begun to enjoy sitting in front of my computer and taking courses online with my dear teachers and friends, and I’m overjoyed to see the number of infected people in China gradually fall.

Spring is here, mom and dad are finally home and fully recovered, and that house of ours is now a lot warmer. And there is still that family photo we have to take.