Two weeks ago, I flew from one crisis to another, in my pajama top, praying the plane would take off and I would make it to my family in Italy. (I work for an aid agency that supports Libya, where fighting is forcing people to flee their homes, and more and more people rely on international assistance to get by.)
I wanted to get to my aunt, the fierce and infinitely gentle woman who raised me, and who still smacks sense into me when I do something silly (which is often). She is 94 years old. I don’t need to tell you what that means in terms of COVID-19; how vulnerable that makes her. I made it to Rome but couldn’t get close for fear of exposing her; but it was a relief to see that she was there, and she was alright, and she was asking why I was wearing my pajama top. The world was falling apart around me, but I was home.
But not everyone gets to be with their loved ones. What about the people who never get to have a home, who live day to day fleeing conflict or poverty?
I see, even in an outing to buy food, people being either incredibly kind or completely dismissive of others.
I understand why some people are turning inwards right now. At first, my aunt’s age made me feel the same, and vulnerability almost always brings along its friend: fear. There’s an urge to stop thinking clearly, and just protect what you fear losing the most.
But I get to choose how I respond right now, and so does the rest of the world. We can choose whether we disregard the pleas… whether we send medical supplies and assistance where they are needed; whether we want to be the kind of society that shields its vulnerable and embraces that we are all, truly, inextricably linked; whether this will make us kinder.
Borders mean nothing to this virus, so perhaps it’s time that we too define ourselves by them less. We can push past that initial urge to protect only that which immediately surrounds us, and apply that feeling outwards so that this renewed sense of identity we’re feeling now encompasses everyone. As a global community, when we eventually see the back of COVID-19, will we remember what it was like to feel unwanted? Will it change how we treat each other, first from day to day, and then from country to country?
[The New Humanitarian]