In my country, Argentina, Kirchnerism has made a sentence famous: “Home is the other”, which I paraphrased in the title. I have always considered it the vernacular synthesis of the concept “the human being as a central value” and of the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like them to treat you). I’m sorry for the sensitive ears that cannot grab the appropriate metaphors of others. Poetry is a gift from humanity.
Like every month, I had to collect the rent. But this month has been different because of the quarantine, rather quiet for me until today, Monday. My credit cards didn’t work, reason enough to go and collect money personally, and since I was out I took the opportunity to sunbathe and have lunch with a friend of mine who lives nearby. (This harmless bullshit is the basis of what I’m going to say shortly. I’m telling this because it is a common practice among intellectuals to claim that their philosophy derives from metaphysical spheres, even when they deny it, metaphysics).
And here I saw Buenos Aires outside my neighborhood for the first time in two months. I was surprised that the shops in that district (the Northern district, so called both for its geographical and social position, since the people who live there are the wealthiest) welcomed their customers within their premises, although they did so by keeping the distance.
Upon my arrival, my interlocutor was waiting for me on the ground floor, wearing a mask. She greeted me with her elbow. For privacy reasons, she accompanied me to the reception hall and, while holding the banknotes in her right hand, she told me that she had fallen ill with Covid-19, she had contracted it in Spain, she had been sick for two days, etc. etc. As always, good humor and sympathy prevailed, but we were both stuck and at a distance. And as always, she insisted that I count the banknotes, I did it and I put them in two separate purses. We said goodbye once again with the elbow, not as usual. And I left.
I spent pleasantly most of the day doing my laps, shopping, walking until I was tired. In short, I enjoyed it. The contrast with the neighborhood I live in was remarkable. People everywhere wearing masks, but more than what I expected to see. As if it were an ordinary Saturday.
By chance, I spent the weekend alone and a little while before I was about to go out on errands. Always for money, of course. So far, “the facts”.
A sentence that I read in one of the many documents that have circulated in this period has been coming back to me for a few days: “Suddenly, each of us exists and is important for the others”. It seemed to me a curious reversal of the pattern of compassion, according to which the importance is of others towards the individual. It is the individual who must put himself in the place of the other. The sentence in question recalls the motto of one for all.
As an info addict, I followed the alternatives of the “virus vs Humanity” game with growing pain, attentive to information on the symptoms and the devastating effects of the “little flu”. Since I protect myself, I was calm. The danger lies in others. Nonetheless, in the last fifteen days I had lunch with my daughter, who was doing some works in her house, with all the necessary precautions, of course, but without sparing us in kisses and hugs.
And suddenly, while I was waiting for my turn to enter the bank, a light bulb went on in my head.
Here I immediately remembered that I had been with someone who had recovered from the infection just a month before. And it is still a mystery what happens next with the infection.
Those types of prevention vectors that acted by targeting others, measuring the distance to be maintained, suddenly changed direction: and they all converged on me. Well, however remote, unlikely etc. etc., the danger is in me. It is not enough that when I got home I placed the banknotes in a basket to weaken the infection (a technique I have used so far when I have not disinfected). I don’t know if I’ve been infected. And I won’t know for a week if I have symptoms, and I may never know if I’m asymptomatic instead. But if I have been infected, I could infect myself. (For now only a few cockroaches that bravely show up from time to time.)
So yes, that’s how it is, now the others are important. For me, now, the damage is done.
This terrible virus ended up laying me bare. I will certainly pay more attention, but this is a detail. Covid-19 is a detail. If I get sick, I will lengthen an already long list, but I would like to do it myself.
Suddenly, the others exist on this side of my ideology, of my presupposed moral, which are the imaginary elements that most of all have served to pave the way towards a better world, but also to add me to a whole, to make me equal to someone else, to have a communication platform that would make me participate in a common identity. Now I no longer have to protect myself from the possible infection represented by others, but I must protect others from myself. And for me, this is a terrible metaphor for my life.
Thus, this is the meaning of quarantine: each of us is important to the others. Each of us can be a mode of transmission, beyond all attention. So, protecting me, I protect; everyone, protecting themselves, protects others.
I think this is exactly what the “libertarians” who oppose the quarantine have not yet understood. Being steadfast in the face of the growing number of mass graves, they make proclamations like “I am big and I know how to protect myself”. Yes, you’ll know how to do it, but what if you are wrong? How many people will be infected? It is impressive what metaphysics can do, but this is a topic that I will address on another occasion.
Now what I want to emphasize is that “all for one, one for all” that Alexandre Dumas invented for his musketeers. Whether we like it or not, we live because of and for the humanity with which we have developed. Each and all of us have the responsibility to protect themselves to protect the whole. So each and all of us are important to others.
Or, to paraphrase the concept of the title, we are all Homeland. But we still have to work a lot on this concept…
Translation from Italian by Ilaria Cuppone