Flashing Back to ‘It’ from the Future

By Billy Shi

April 24, 2020
Dear daughter/son,
When you are able to read, this is a piece you should pick up. I am writing from a time of uncertainty, which perhaps is only news and scary stories to you. Every day the sun still rose, but the uncertainty was in the number, the percentage, and the curve.

“It” all started with one, like the first drop of oil floated into the ocean. Soon, the entire ocean was contaminated. The sea level continued to rise, and people suffocated. “It” was scary. “It” spread fast. “It” hit us hard. “It” will come back.

I hope you understand what I mean, though part of me also hope not. I am not talking about virus. That’s not “it”.

“It” is misinformation. The invention of social media brought the best laughs and cutest selfies, yet in times of crisis it dropped false headlines and scary claims faster than Newton’s apple. It spread faster than the virus, and distancing ourselves from it is nearly impossible. In one single day, I unlocked my phone 130 times, spending a total of 5 hours on social
media. Words like “lockdown”, “ghost-town”, and “death” have never been so close and so real. That was the real scary part, my dear, and I am worried for your generation. You will be exposed to screens more than ever, yet screens are black holes: they suck you into a blinded world. Hundreds of “Donald Trump” accounts appear on Twitter, yet we choose the trust the blue check mark beside the true one, out of which flows uncertain amount of truth. You need to know that the “100” on your screen may be “1000”, and that the “soon” you see may be “forever”. Oh, I apologize if you don’t know who Donald Trump is: he was once the drop of oil in an ocean called White House.

“It” is lack of trust. You trust daddy (hopefully also mommy), and we’ve told you how important it is to trust others. Yet I am writing in a time when trust wears a mask around its eyes and walks blindly. Media don’t trust the government. Government don’t trust the people. People don’t trust their neighbors. I was walking on the sidewalk and saw a stranger walked towards me. I didn’t know what happened in my mind but my toes pivoted, hoping to avoid the stranger. It wasn’t me who looked fussed, but something in my mind that was new but stubborn. It felt like sense of suspicion that those people you used to celebrate Easter with, sing karaoke with, shop clothes with, run on a trail with, attend classes with … are all a threat to you, even though they look friendly and are trying to smile beneath their masks. Like the virus, this kind of fear and distrust has no medicine. So my dear, this is crisis that taught me how to live with someone, with whom I am willing to share my health and destiny. You are still young, but know that every time daddy take you to a walk along the lake shore, those smiling strangers who call you “cute” and “adorable” share trust with us. Don’t take that as granted – it disappears like a drop of oil in the ocean.

My dear, you may be too young to know now, and may never really know. Daddy became emotional in a pandemic like this. I lost my great-grandmother in SARS, when I was 2 years old, but somehow I remembered the car ride into the SARS epicenter to see her for the last time. That was my first ever impression of a ghost town. Now that impression came back like a nightmare so real that I can touch it and feel it talking to me.

My dear, it is so important to have hope and don’t let hope be contaminated by the drop of oil. It is so important to know that family is not just three people under a roof, but openly shared trust, hope, fear and concern.
I wish to write to you when your heart is still crystal clear like the ocean water once was. This clarity can also spread, and can also come back after the dark clouds left.

I hope in your future when you come across 2020, you see more rainbows than curves, more smiles than numbers, and certainly, more actions than words.

With endless love,
Dad