Wishing everyone safety during this pandemic. Yes, everyone.
After returning home to Maryland a little over four weeks ago, I was on the phone with my dad who I had just left in California. Like many Washington University students, I was dreading the weeks ahead in which I’d be attending classes online, sending in innumerable 250-300 word responses, and trying to find a new routine, but most of all, I was worried and confused. I didn’t want to believe what was inevitable—that people would die and had died from this virus, and there was basically nothing I could do but sit in my house and log on to Fiction 1 every day at 11:00 a.m. My father, in response to my download of stress, responded, “We just need to get through this and make sure our loved ones get through it too.” That immediately felt wrong to me. “Well, we should care that everyone gets through it, right?”
I was confused. My immediate inclination was to feel empathy for everyone, everywhere—to send out a prayer, worry at my fingernails, cross my fingers, for everyone, at least. It felt like the very least I could do, and I was instantly hit with how overwhelming it was, yet it was the only thing I could feel. It confused me, in a strange way, that my father was focused on the people we loved, who, of course, I was worried about. I was worried about my aunt and uncles and my great aunts and grandparents, but ultimately, I was worried about the people who had no home to go back to and the people who had to get up each day and go work essential jobs. I hoped that my loved ones would be safe, but I think I worried more about the people who were actively struggling. I wanted everyone, everywhere to get home safely, and that was the only thing I could think about.
The word “love,” then, was interesting to me. Did we have to love people to want them safe, sound asleep in their beds, and able to have a bed in the first place? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently too, not only because of COVID-19, but in general. Do we have to love someone to want them happy and free and alive? The obvious, innate answer is “yes,” but really, a lot of people, I think, don’t act that way in their daily lives. My father said “love” and it felt like an insult to the world—like something selfish and small-minded. But I don’t think it was his fault. I wonder, often, if our constant notion of “love thy neighbor” is what stops us from just being decent to each other. The constant push for human beings to love each other feels like a lot to ask, and ultimately if the opposite of love is hate, and we know we don’t hate people, we ignore a terrible beast: indifference. I do not have to love someone to want them to be safe or happy or unharmed. I do not have to love someone to want them to pull through and wake up one day in the future, ecstatic, just like I am, that they can go outside again. When my father used love to qualify our concern, our priority, I was hit by an undeniable doubt.
The argument I’m trying to make doesn’t feel radical—it isn’t even specifically about pandemics and fast-spreading symptoms—it’s honestly just something to think about. This calls back to many LGBTQIA* movements, the seeming unpopularity of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and even the malice of the justice system. Do we have to care for, or even love, people to want them to be able to live their lives the way they want to? Safely? Happy and unbothered? As a person, I make it my mission to support as many people as I can, not because I want to be woke or to have a clean conscience, but because I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to fight for the simple freedom of others. Even when I don’t like someone or the movement they are behind, I don’t wish them unjust punishment or insurmountable pain, nor do I turn an indifferent eye to their suffering. I don’t think it is my job to close myself off to everyone because of the rotten few.
This is all to say that I don’t think we as a generation, even as the human race, should only hope for the ones we love or like. I think it is our job, even if it is only a silent prayer or a word of affirmation, to at least care about everyone, no matter who they are. This is not to say we cannot prioritize ourselves—I am a big fan of prioritizing our own mental and physical health—but I think we should still try, every day (not just during a pandemic), to care about everyone on account of their humanity and not their relationship to us.