We work out together in the weightroom after school a few days each week and while running stairs to warm up, I mentioned the strangeness of this day, this moment before three weeks of school closures for the COVID pandemic. He says something that takes me aback, but then which quickly makes sense.
“We are healthy and safe. This isn’t a civil war.”
He says this so quietly, it sounds almost like a whisper. He has a gentle demeanor and previously mentioned his Indonesian ancestry. On Tuesdays, he leads free yoga sessions for teachers. I begin to wonder if he or his family might be familiar with civil wars, so I mutter agreement between breaths as we descend the stairs preparing for another ascent around the building. I’m suddently out of my body and my worries, and in my head in the lives of others.
His statement lingered, so once I was home, I decided to look into the history of Indonesia and found that the Indonesian Communist Purge from 1965-66 resulted in an estimated 500,000 to one million deaths at the hands of the government. This is new learning for me, but I have seen the aftermath of war. It has touched my family and I know it’s residue remains in the blood and bones of my parents. I have witnessed war in the students at Adult High School, many new Canadians; one of my Sudanese students in Writer’s Craft had one arm. Others wrote about their own emprisonment, torture; these pieces were painful learnings for me. They were transformations.
Suddently, the strangeness I had felt earlier seemed small and insular. The closing of schools as safeguard against a pandemic took on an air of reassurance, a small comfort that we are looking after one another.