Love decreases the terror of these terrible times –C.E.Wheeler
As I write this, my wife is preparing to travel home to be with her family. Her father was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. After his first round of chemotherapy, he developed pneumonia and was hospitalized. Hong had already began making plans to travel home, but she changed her ticket and moved her travel time to this weekend. She has been on an emotional roller-coaster for weeks. In order to travel she has to have a negative covid-19 result within 72 hours of departure. Additionally, China requires verification of the results; and if verified a digital certificate will be issued allowing her to fly. On arrival, she must quarantine for fourteen days in a government-specified hotel, at her own expense of course. Only then will she be allowed to go to her hometown and be with her family. We are awaiting the results of her covid-19 exam which should be ready tonight or early tomorrow. Then she must contact the consulate, on a Saturday. All the while, I worry about her traveling but encouraged her to try or else she will live with regret her whole life. She needs to try and say goodbye to her Dad. We are uneasy as we wait for issues to be resolved which are beyond our control.
At the beginning of the week, we tried to plan the results within the 72 hour window, but the lab was super efficient and beat their estimate by two days, so her negative (thank God) results would fall outside the 72 hour window. We were able to make the appointment online and arrange for the exam to be given in the parking lot of a small town drugstore. It was too frightening to think of the consequences of a positive test as we waited for the wonderful lady to come out. Hong inserted the swab and followed directions. I helped a little, by holding the specimen bottle. When it was over the kind woman said the results would come in three-four days. We parked and disinfected the car and our hands. We keep several bottles of soapy water in the car in order to wash our hands whenever we have to go out. This pandemic has raged on too long for some people, and others have gotten careless with hygiene, but not us. We are determined to ride out this demon as safely as we can.
My father-in-law’s condition has continued to worsen throughout the week. Just a few days ago, he was able to hold his phone and chat with Hong for over an hour. Since then, his mind has been drifting away. My sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law are staying with him in the hospital in shifts. In China, when you are hospitalized, family members stay near you at all times. They will arrange for meals and whatever additional care needs to be provided. My wife’s older brother is in charge of final decisions. She has been torn apart inside because she cannot be there. She worries her Dad will not be able to survive for long in the hospital. We are on a twenty-four hour clock these days. Our afternoons are the middle of the night in China. Our evenings are when they chat, with updates via social media throughout the day and night. I told her she needed to be part of whatever is to come. The traditional roles of the eldest daughter drive her to some extent. She told me there is an old Chinese saying that children should never live far away when their parents are alive. I held her in my arms and reassured her. Her love for her father, brothers and sister is unbreakable. She has firmly decided now to follow through and try to make it home. She says she will not return for months. She will arrange several big issues in her life back home while she waits for the pandemic to loosen its grip. And so for the next two days we wait together.
These are terrible times for billions of people. We all have faced down the horror of the pandemic. But here in the US the specter of death still thrives thanks to stupidity and lack of leadership. We all worry, but this is especially true of older people with health conditions. Trying to figure the odds of every public action, each move we make, we creep towards the horizon. The unknown has waited in the shadows of our lives for far too long. Another season has arrived and soon will pass into the next, and the next, and perhaps the next before this scourge is lifted somewhat. Experts say life will never return to what it was. In some ways, our society will experience 5-10 years of change in less than a year. 2020/21 will be a year of accelerated change. Human survival instinct sits in the background of every day. My wife and I have not been apart the entire time of the Covid pandemic. We have planned and decided things together. As we wait, we spend these precious days strengthening our pledge to one another, “… in sickness and in health…”
In Chinese, I refer to my wife as Laopo lǎopó. (Pronounced Lao-Po-uh). The true meaning of laopo is not easily translated, but it means someone who you are deeply familiar with and committed to. I am her laogong (same meaning but male). I laugh when my step-son has called his girlfriends laopo. These words have other connotations, but for us they mean long-term commitment. We both suffered horrible first marriages, and so it took us a long time to truly grow to where we felt things would last. But, I learned long ago not to step between her and her family. I give my opinion, I react when things come directly at me, but I always respect her family relationships.
Years ago, we visited an ancient village, where only old folks continued to live. They had a meager tourism business showing people around their village and their homes. One sweet, little old lady led us to her home, and showed us the banner from her family members who passed the top level of government exams (imperial exams were a way to change the fortune of families and whole villages for centuries). She asked my laopo if we would like to meet her laogong – her “old partner”. She hinted at a donation. I gave her twenty RMB without hesitation, my laopo told me not to offer too much, because it would be as if I was lording over them. The experience was priceless – seeing her ancient smile and the smile on her kindly ninety-two years old husband’s face when he peered around the corner at the smiling Laowai (foreigner).Today, as we wait and prepare for her long journey, I hold dear to the image of my laopo and me as ancient oldsters still falling asleep holding hands, having made it through the difficult times in the past and those inevitably ahead of us. The sun will shine again on our love in the time of Covid, and forever after. Stay safe. Peace.