This time ten years ago, I was graduating in a high school class of 400 and ready to leave them all in dust. Life, I decided, was happening somewhere other than that small town outside of Memphis. I knew nothing about going to college except that I’d gotten accepted to an out-of-state private school in Saint Louis — the only university I applied to. My parents couldn’t offer much insight to this transition because they hadn’t graduated from a university. From filing for the FAFSA to picking out housing arrangements, I pieced together each next step towards being a self-sufficient adult.
On graduation weekend, I was fussing with my mom because I didn’t want a party. It’s a bratty thing to not appreciate that relatives were coming from out of town. Still, I preferred to withdraw from groups. I wanted to receive the party as a collective act of kindness, but an inexplicable weariness sunk in instead. I now know what I was struggling to say: as the youngest of seven and the last one to leave the nest, I suspected the party was for convenience, tradition, and more so my parents’ retirement. My graduation was an even greater achievement for them as well as the beginning of a well-deserved rest. It’s the nature of being the youngest in a big family that sometimes I felt like a faceless trophy. I was skeptical of how much I actually belonged in any group of people beyond convenience and tradition. Lacking this emotional intelligence at the time, I only knew I was being a jerk and I especially felt guilty at the ceremony. When my name was called, it didn’t fall into silence like some other graduates’ names had. The enormity of my family’s cheers seemed to prolong my moment over and above seven syllables. This was a time I felt seen.
Afterwards, at my party, an older sister brought me a gift I hadn’t asked for or wanted — a puppy. I complained that I wasn’t planning to be looking after a German Shepherd in my college dorms that fall. My mom, preferring to avoid discourse, told me to just accept the dog, that the dog would stay with them. I brought up that neither she nor dad were good at taking care of animals since they believed that they don’t feel emotions or have preferences like we do, but this was a rotten attitude for such an occasion. Some hours later, I ditched my graduation party to join friends at a Renaissance Fair.
The decade left me much farther from my hometown than where I went to college. Today I quarantine in a small apartment in North Africa. Eighteen-year-old me knew that 28 would look something like settling into the role of a foreigner. I could have predicted that I’d keep some emotional distance from most people I know. However, the court-mandated physical distancing, I couldn’t have. Self-isolating illustrates the trajectory I was already on.
Now, I’m in Tangier, and it’s Ramadan during quarantine. I’m equipped from years of travel, which demanded cultivating an unshakable inner peace; I’ve enjoyed my own company. Solitude is now a theme for everyone. In the streets, people don’t stand close to talk and, even so, we are all wearing blue masks over our mouths. I miss the sound of the local Arabic that I had barely tried communicating in. And despite this outstanding silence, now is the time to call each other. I’m running a list of people to check up on. Old friends are checking up on me. Some friendships that had fallen out of contact (due to the inconvenience of distance) feel like we haven’t lost a week. Reaching out is showing me that the people in my life don’t have to feel like an 0ther.
The virus has, if anything, brought the message that one’s actions affect the well-being of the whole. Being mindful of our shared humanity invites me to spend quarantine building the will to try again — to commune without holding back, to learn how to create a place.
Born a Navy brat in San Diego, California, and a nomad ever since, Teresa Lynn Hasan-Kerr earned a bachelor's degree in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in French at Webster University in Saint Louis, MO. Soon after graduating, she moved to Morocco, where she currently resides as an EFL teacher and a writer.
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Global Missions Local Missions (GMSLMS) is an organization that focuses on doing good for humanity. While many people harbor information and/or ideas that would be useful to the public, oftentimes success comes down to the proper knowledge and execution. They offer consulting and courses for people who want to affect positive change in the world, from humanitarian operations, professional development, and cross-cultural communication.