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Will Corona Remind Us to Build a More Empathetic Community?



















As I sit here in lockdown on Ikaria, I realise I have no right to complain. I am surrounded by nature - right now, I can see spring flowers of all colours, red, yellow and purple growing outside my window, and of course, I have my family close by. We are all well and keeping busy, trying out new ways to stay productive; talking with relatives on the phone or the internet every day.


But as I was dropping groceries outside the front door of my uncle and aunt’s, who are both now in their eighties, unable to go inside for our usual coffee together, I got to thinking – while social distancing is our current norm, I can’t help but wonder how this time will change us when life goes back to “normal”?


I understand and agree with the practice of lockdown. We are all hoping for the best and quickest end to this tragic situation.


Yet, I find what I miss the most is the physical presence of a person and touch. I’m Greek and even more, I am Ikarian. If you have ever come to visit us on the island, you know that eating dinner at a Greek table means we sit close together, sharing wine and conversation, shoulder-to-shoulder. When we celebrate at a local paniyeri, we dance close together, so close in fact, that it can be impossible to move. It’s part of our language to speak with a gesture, be it a hug, or a kind and warm pat on the shoulder. As a community, we are a very tactile bunch!


It also got me thinking about the many guests I’ve had visit from cultures and countries that are more restrained both physically and perhaps emotionally. They seem a little afraid to open up, to show their vulnerability, to be emotional – to be seen in their humanness. Often comes a look of surprise on their faces when I embrace them hello with a hug, and for those that know me, you know that comes with the territory!


It’s simple, we are emotional and vulnerable human beings and no matter how hard we try, none of us can escape that. If there is a great gift that has come from this time, I hope it is that we can embrace our vulnerability rather than try to deny it.


In our culture, it’s ok to be vulnerable, to be emotional and to let your feelings show. It’s ok to be honest about who you are, this is what makes us all so unique and special. When you come visit next, don’t be surprised if I give you a great big hug and if I find you seeming a little shy, I’ll probably make a point of sitting right beside you asking about your life, beyond the surface conversation.


In this time of isolation, I am feeling the gifts of our empathetic community more than ever, and hope it is one of the great aspects of life we can embrace more fully once this is all over.

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