A liminal place can mean the in-between period during ‘before and after’ events. It is a time for answering radical questions, a sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. It creates a defining moment for us.
Captain Tom Moore is 100 today. The 100 laps of his garden a couple of weeks ago, attracted 1.4 million donations to a record breaking £28.6 million (US $35.2 million) for the NHS in the UK; he also has a No.1 hit in the music charts. Capturing our collective hearts, this gentle spoken centenarian has led by his example to help others. As part of an inter-generational family, he is a symbol of the daily courage shown by those at most immediate risk from this pandemic, among them our parents, grandparents and loved ones above 70 years of age. He has also proven to a society that would normally label him as a dependent, how precious our elders are to us. By targeting our most vulnerable, this shapeshifter pandemic has given a very personal face to the consequences of inaction. It’s turned our six degrees of separation, into two meters, and among my own wider circle of family and friends, there are sobering stories.
According to the 2017 UN World Population Aging report, there were 962 million people aged above 60, 137 million of these were aged 80 or above, a figure projected to triple by 2050. It reveals, those who live “independently” (alone or with a spouse), ranged across a sample of countries; “from 2.3% in Afghanistan to 93.4% in the Netherlands”; the general trend shows a growing number of elderly do not co-habit with their families. The heightened impact of COVID-19 on this demographic, several with underlying health conditions, will continue to enforce isolation upon them and with it, mental and physical health concerns exacerbated by loneliness and hardship.
“Supporting and protecting older people living alone in the community is everyone’s business.”
Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe
COVID-19 press conference 03 April 2020
COVID-19 is not responsible for isolation among our elderly, nor for other marginalized and at risk communities throughout the world, but it has served to amplify the results of existing imbalances. Our health, the economy and society are the triad put into the spotlight by the virus. We have long been alerted to the conditions of healthcare professionals and other essential service workers, those most valuable often earning the least. Others at risk are the Gig Economy workers, homeless, refugees, ex-offenders, people with disabilities, disadvantaged minorities, indigenous communities, sex-workers, contract workers, victims of modern slavery, child labour – the list goes on. This lock-down period has yanked us firmly into others’ shoes. If we did not appreciate what it’s like to feel alienated, alone and afraid of what the future may bring . . . we do now.
Thankfully during this time, others have cared for our health, ensured we have food, kept things going. This time of isolation, is helping us rediscover our resourcefulness, the generosity of others, our gratitude and our humanity. In Paris we’re into our seventh week of lock-down. Clapping each evening from our window with my husband and our toddler to show appreciation for our front-line health and essential workers, leaves me within a liminal moment to ask myself – what is my sacred story?
“Oxfam has warned that a recession caused by COVID-19 could push an extra half a billion people into poverty – 8 percent of the world’s population – unless urgent action is taken”
World Economic Forum, 12 April 2020
As a Colombian, I am aware that the simple act of #StayingHome as our safest option, is not a luxury available to all. Colombia has 50 million people. Official reports of COVID-19 started there in mid-March, with 6,211 known cases to date. 50% of our labour force is part of the informal economy. 20% of people live in poverty. We are one of 141, lower and middle-income countries and territories on the threshold of this pandemic. According to the ILO, a mere 27% of the global population have access to social security; isolation can mean hunger. The UN warns that $2.5 trillion is needed to support developing countries as a result of this crisis. Across the world, we hold our breath . . .
So, is it our business to care for others? The fact I am writing this, means I am among the lucky ones, I feel a need to help, and I’m not the only one. At an individual level, caring is taking root through hyper-local social networking services, betting on us feeling a need to look out for each other, to be more integrated and helpful within our local communities. Apps like internationally expanding Nextdoor, a hub to exchange helpful information, goods, and services, have seen user engagement grow by 80% over the past few weeks. In Spain, people are recording bedtime stories for refugee children to listen to with their parents. In Paris, the local government funded initiative Paris en Compagnie, links the elderly with those wanting to be of service. Individual gestures, make a difference.
As the French Government prepares to phase-out the lock-down as of 11 May, I look forward to walking beside others, helping leave no one behind.