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In Isolation, But For Once Not Alone

Mehdi M. Kashani

[Editor's note: The following is part of a special series on the coronavirus pandemic, featuring original poems and essays by contributors to The Bare Life Review. New entries will be added every Tuesday and Friday. Previous entries in the series can be found here.]

In Persian we have a saying, roughly translated: “No one knows of their tomorrow.”

It captures rather perfectly the norm of life in contemporary Iran. In that homeland of mine planning, short-term or long, can easily be compromised or rendered irrelevant—say by a sudden collapse of currency, street turbulence, arbitrary manipulations of laws (not that laws necessarily mean much). Guided by an instinct for survival, we’ve grown accustomed to the vagaries of fate. We’ve even learned to embrace them.

To an Iranian expat like myself, someone who inhabits a state of instability and precariousness on a daily basis—from restrictions on travel to the unorthodox methods required to transfer money to or from a country under sanction—the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t seem terribly novel. It feels familiar, however uncanny that sounds, another manifestation of uncertainty, another ripple in our already raging sea of unpredictability and contingency. That’s not to play down its massive scale: In fact, Iran was one of the first countries to be dramatically affected by the spread; as I’m writing this, the relentless virus claims lives in the hundreds every day and spirals our already bankrupt economy deeper into a chasm.

But there is something noteworthy—I want to say hopeful, at the risk of sounding insensitive to the fact that we are dealing with a tragedy—about this new order the Coronavirus has brought about. Iran, for once in decades, is not alone. Originating in the far east, the unbridled beast slouched on the Silk Road, trampled over Iran on its way to Europe and is now engulfing the new world. Everyone is at risk.

The pandemic is global and that fact makes it relatable, a shared reality. By virtue of this ubiquity it imposes upon the world a veil of fairness. The sense of isolation and the impossibility of planning for the future applies to everyone. But to us Iranians there is a kind of familiarity about it, a hint of jaded déjà vu.

I am tempted to say we were vaccinated against the new shock. But no, COVID-19 has indeed brought us hardships like any other nation—with some, at times funny, silver linings. At least now the American and the Canadian passports are as useless as the Iranian one. The next time we lament to our neighbors and colleagues about the difficulties of being an Iranian they won’t just politely nod. They’ll have experienced the throes of isolation with their own flesh and blood. They will relate. Or so I hope.

I am not naïvely optimistic. This is not a movie. People will not simply make up and live happily ever-after in the end. A country under decades of isolation like Iran will not simply be embraced into the community of nations just because a pandemic forced the world to share a singular experience. I am only hopeful that this collective reckoning may draw people closer, force us to acknowledge our shared fate, nurture empathy. And that empathy may be something upon which we can build.

It is true we are a forgetful species. Our oblivion has a way of returning once a crisis has passed. This, too, must be a survival mechanism. But maybe this time will be different. Never in modern history have we faced such a profound struggle against a common threat. Perhaps the repercussions, too, will prove unprecedented.

As the saying goes, no one knows what tomorrow brings.


Mehdi M. Kashani lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. His fiction and nonfiction can be found in Passages North, The Rumpus, Catapult, Wigleaf, Bellevue Literary Review, Four Way Review, The Minnesota Review, Emrys Journal (for which he won 2019 Sue Lile Inman Fiction Award) among others. He has work forthcoming in Epiphany and Zone 3. His short story, "Bazaar Bozorg," appeared in TBLR Volume 3. To learn more about him, visit his website:


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