Keeping Our Eyes Open
In the Today program on BBC radio 4 this morning I was struck by Stephanie Hegarty’s report from the Moria migrant settlement in Lesbos. In a facility built for 3000 people there are now 18.000 migrants. In this time of pandemic, even just washing hands in a refugee camp can be tricky: water is available only for few hours every day and there is a shortage of soap. Social isolation is virtually impossible in such an overcrowded place where people have to queue for everything: water stations, showers, toilets, food distribution points. It is a ticking time bomb for a coronavirus outbreak.
In the midst of this disheartening situation, however, there is a silver lining. Some afgan refugees set up a small workshop to sew face masks using whatever cloth is available. They know that cotton masks are not very effective against the virus but they are determine
d to do whatever they can.
This called to my mind a sentence from John Steinbeck’s novel Grapes of wrath: “If you're in trouble, or hurt or need - go to the poor people. They're the only ones that'll help - the only ones.”
The only way of reclaiming our dignity when life deprives us of everything is resisting the temptation to close ourselves off from others. The resolve to keep caring for each other, to support each other, opens our eyes to possibilities we would not have perceived otherwise.
Scripture tells to us that idols “have eyes but do not see” (Psalm 135.16). Safety, well being, possessions, comfort, prosperity are good things and striving to achieve them for ourselves and for our society is a duty. Like everything else, however, they can become idols when we grasp them jealously and selfishly – and this attitude makes us blind. We still have eyes but we do not see that true well-being only grows when it is shared. Resisting anxiety about earthly possessions unshackles our imagination and renews hope for ourselves and for our society.
This is a time of great uncertainty for most of us but we have to resist anxiety by keeping our eyes open on any opportunity to care for each other. How refreshing for all of us that the most eloquent lesson on resilience in this pandemic should come to us from the admirable afgan youth in the refugee camp of Moria on the ile of Lesbos.