“Excuse me mate, do you know where I can find the surgical masks and hand sanitizers?”
There was no point him opening his mouth. His facial expressions said it all. They spoke in a way that said: “You’ve reached the end of the world and you thought you’d wait until now to take precautions?”
The pharmacist didn’t say that to me, though. He politely told me that there would be no surgical masks available anywhere in the country for the foreseeable future and told me where the hand sanitizers could be found, although he was skeptical about stock levels.
I walked through the isles of the chemist to the place where the holy grail of hand sanitizers was supposed to be. There were so many brands and different price points. Unfortunately, every one of them was sold out.
“How did you go with the hand sanitizers?”
“All gone like you suspected,” I said.
My girlfriend left for a holiday to China just before a mystery virus broke out in her home country. She wasn’t to know. What was supposed to be time to relax and take in the beautiful sites was replaced with fear and a sort of odd discrimination that is hard to explain.
Instead of journeying to new places and playing in the snow that is knee-high at this time of year, she is confined to an apartment. There are also no hand sanitizers or surgical masks available for sale where she is. It reminds me of when there was a frenzy on makeup sold by a Kardashian — and now the item we’re selling out of is protection against each other in the form of a clear liquid and a mask that blocks out our view of the world.
My trip to the drug store was a precaution for when, and if, my girlfriend returns home. For the first time ever, I had to ring a hotline and explain the situation to a trained nurse who insisted on taking down all of my details and logging me in the computer system like I was reporting a bomb threat. They told me what precautions to take and suggested “self-quarantine,” a phrase I’d never heard. But my girlfriend is not sick and is unlikely to become that way.
Choosing to be with her when she comes home or staying at a friend’s home is a decision the nurse asked me to make.
When I mention to people in social settings that my girlfriend is in China, they look at me like I’m dating an illegal alien. Workplaces are telling their staff to boycott trips to China and anyone who has come into contact with ‘the country’ is being asked to self-quarantine.
People on public transport are wearing surgical masks and rubbing hand sanitizer on their hands like a nervous crack addict. If someone sneezes in a public place, they’re looked at like they just slit someone’s throat with an ax they bought from Wallmart. To sneeze is a sin.
Love thy neighbor has been replaced by fear thy neighbor.
Surgical masks have become a metaphor for humanity, leaving us with the question: “Where is the love?”
I’m unsure whether my girlfriend will make it home. People returning home from China are being quarantined if they look sick and put in places like Christmas Island that are not so jolly like the man in the red suit when you read up on the history of such locations.
Terrorists used to get put into detention centers; now it’s people with colds or a slight cough.
What happens if you are returning home and just happen to get a cold that has nothing to do with a deadly virus? What if you’re just Plain Jane with a cough caused by adolescent smoking, waiting to see your kids and hug them again?What if the whole virus swooping the planet is an overreaction?
More people die each day from junk food related illnesses caused by heart disease than any current strain of virus.
Nobody is standing outside a hamburger joint with a surgical mask and begging that it be shut down to save lives.
But this is not a sad story. This is an opportunity.
We don’t have to fear thy neighbor. We are global citizens and any of us can get sick for any reason at all. Rather than fear each other, we can go about it another way. See the people who are sick or coming in and out of China, like my girlfriend, as your neighbor — because they are.
A mystery virus can bring out the best in humanity or the worst. We get to decide. Nobody that has this virus or has come into contact with it expected to. They were going about their day, just like you.
The decision we get to make could be and should be an empathetic one. If you were coming back from China or were born in China, would you want to be treated as though you’re a disease? Of course not.
In situations like this we get the chance to put on our big boy/girl panties and put ourselves in the shoes of others.
Humans are not a disease to one another.
At this point it is not clear what will happen to my girlfriend. All I know is that love is a far stronger bond than fear. Love makes us take the right action and treat humans as humans, rather than a group of animals sorted by the geographical dot point we were at when we arrived out of our mother’s womb.
I hope that my girlfriend gets to arrive home safely and see my smiling face again. I hope people treat her the same way they did before she went to China, as they do when she comes home.
Let’s not let a mystery virus divide us. Let’s remember to love our neighbors again no matter where they come from or have visited.