BUILDING BRIDGES: Physical distance doesn’t mean emotional distance

Last month, I wrote about the coronavirus being wrongfully attached to the Chinese community.

On Feb. 5, 2020 the Province headlined the front page of their newspaper with reference to the ‘China virus’ – which was both racist and irresponsible.

Unfortunately, this was also a reflection of the narrative in the general community, as evidenced by a decline in frequenting Asian businesses and outright displays of hostility toward Chinese-looking people. While what we have learned of the virus since its outbreak may be confusing or unclear, one thing we do know is that this virus knows no race, religion or socio-economic status. It sees us as all as hosts because of the thing we have in common: we are human.

As the number of cases escalated in countries like Italy and Iran, and as we have seen COVID-19 declared a global pandemic, it became more clear that this is a collective issue and responsibility. At the time of writing, I note that over the last two days the feeling in our community has turned from amusement at the stockpiling of toilet paper to something that feels quite sombre. I see it on the faces of parents as we pick up our children from quieter school playgrounds.

I dropped my daughter off to her Grade 1 classroom this morning just before class started and counted 10 children hanging up their coats and backpacks, curiously looking around at their half-empty classroom. Despite our cancelled vacation plans, I’m thankful that spring break is here – a chance to hunker down and keep ourselves from social situations that might spread the bug. I am determined to do my part in flattening the curve, making sure that the spike of this illness isn’t higher than it needs to be. And we must all do this, not for ourselves or those in our household or immediate circles, but for the greater community. For each other.

If there is one thing I hope we are taking note of in this distressing situation, it’s that we really, truly belong to each other. I’ve tried to drive this notion home in the past by reminding readers that we all feel joy and we all feel fear, thereby trying to connect us to each other by our primal feelings. But here is something else that’s making the same point – an outsider, if you will, that doesn’t care about any of our differences. It sees us all the same.

When you are out and about, gathering goods for your pantry and freezers, ask yourself who you know who might need help. Someone who lives on your street? A local shelter? Your extended family? Someone you know who might be struggling under regular circumstances who might need some support, even emotionally.

Reach out to folks who might suffer from anxiety. Share what you can, spare what you can. Whether it’s hand sanitizer or hope. Especially hope.

With events being cancelled, some dreams are being postponed. Things we looked forward to feel like they have vanished into thin air. These losses are also contributing to a collective grief. Perhaps we can think of how we can contribute to a collective hope. We may have to keep our distance physically from each other, but not emotionally.

Read books, share your thoughts, keep art in your life, stay connected. Be kind and generous, and conscious of each other. My very best thoughts to all of you readers for a healthy time ahead.

All for one and one for all.

Columnist Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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