Daniel Hajek

On a warm May night, the sound of footsteps and a stranger's voice in the darkness outside his home startled a man in Afghanistan. Alarmed, he went to investigate. He saw that someone had affixed something to his door.

He found a handwritten note: "You have been helping U.S. occupier forces and ... you are an ally and spy of infidels, we will never leave you alive."

Dr. Angela Chen, an emergency medicine doctor at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, says she is pretty good at dealing with the unexpected. It's part of what drew her to emergency medicine, and her work on emergency cases trained her to navigate uncertain times.

Then, there was COVID-19.

Most mornings, Paulino Ramos sat under the small tree at the entrance of a busy Home Depot parking lot near Downtown Los Angeles. Other day laborers hanging around on the corner knew they could find their friend there, waiting in the shade for construction jobs. But in early September, they noticed Ramos, the sturdily built demolition worker, looked weak.

It's been a brutal year for Americans.

The relentless spread of COVID-19, the ensuing economic crisis and the reckoning around social injustice has made this a year like none other.

NPR wanted to know how these cataclysmic, consequential events have affected American families and how those experiences might shape their political choices in the upcoming presidential election.

In June, Marcel Lopez and his cousins set up a Zoom video call to say goodbye to their grandfather. Retired physician, José Gabriel López-Plascencia — Dr. López for short — was near death at his home in Phoenix. He was unable to speak, but he let his grandchildren know he was listening.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Last month, Raj Patel was talking with his friend, a doctor, who sounded absolutely exhausted.

RAJ PATEL: We were talking over dinner, and I come to find out that he was sleeping in his garage.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On Nov. 16, 1989, a housekeeper named Lucía Cerna was startled awake by a violent commotion outside her window.

"I heard shooting, shooting at lamps, and walls, and windows," Cerna writes in her memoir, La Verdad: A Witness to the Salvadoran Martyrs. "I heard doors kicked, and things being thrown."

Armed soldiers broke into the José Simeón Cañas Central American University on the outskirts of El Salvador's capital, and raided the residence where six Jesuit priests were sleeping.

Raquel Idiáquez was cooking dinner with her uncle when she noticed something was wrong. He'd been visiting her in Seattle from Managua, Nicaragua, and that evening of April 15, 2018, he kept leaving the kitchen to take an urgent call.

"I saw him getting a little nervous and going to his phone more frequently than usual," says Idiáquez, 28. "Then he just came to me. He was like, 'I gotta leave tomorrow.' "

In March 1980, Patricia Morales Tijerino and her sister had just left a wedding in a little chapel in El Salvador's capital and were on their way to the reception.

"And then I spotted him," Morales Tijerino recalls. "He was in his white cassock."

Óscar Arnulfo Romero, the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Salvador, was standing alone in a garden outside the church.

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