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They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
This image, without a doubt, perfectly summarizes the consequences of the madness that we are experiencing in these weeks.
It is the image of emptiness and loneliness. But also of indolence and selfishness.
Taken on March 19 at Coles supermarket in Port Melbourne, Australia, it was published by journalist Seb Costello. In it you can see an old woman in the canning hall. Empty. For the panic buyings that have been unleashed these days as a result of the coronavirus. The journalist says that to the old woman escaped some tears.
Panic buying, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. An iceberg as deep as life itself and as stratified as our social classes.
This image shows us that, although the coronavirus does not understand social classes, those who manage the situation do differentiate by social classes. Differentiations that were barely bearable before but now become a punch to sensitivity. Differentiations that in these times – more than ever – can make the difference between life and death. Literally.
It is also the image of vulnerability. Of those who have been left behind. Last in line. Those that nobody takes into account because they already gave everything they had and have lost their “social value”. Those who become invisible. That they almost have to ask for forgiveness for existing. Those who only ask us to remember them. Even if it’s from time to time. And they don’t even want us to help them, but only that we don’t complicate things any more.
That – and other images – will also pass into the annals of history. To remind us of what society as a whole did not want to see. To finally give visibility to the invisible ones. Although it may be too late for many of them.
The deaf complaint of those who have lost their voice
That image is also a deaf complaint. It is an accusatory finger that forces the system – and each one of us – to face our conscience. It is a knock that tells us that we have mistaken the way.
That image is the reflection of a society too full of itself. Too busy. Too much alienated. It is the image that damages the image of companies and governments, because it reminds them that, even if they do not want and resist, they have an inalienable social obligation.
It is also the image of the states that allow their elderly to die in residences. Of decreed aid for the vulnerable who end up losing themselves in the twists and turns of bureaucracy. It is the image of institutions and countries that have forgotten about solidarity and opted for a “save yourself who can”. Of those who gave Italy and the Italians the could shoulder, leaving them completely alone and abandoned to their fate, feeding the futile hope that it would not be their turn.
Because – luckily or unfortunately – there is nothing like extreme situations to bring out truths that would otherwise be buried behind sweetened words and empty gestures. In those situations, what we are and what we are worth comes to light – as people and as a society.
That image, in short, tells us from the thunderous silence of those who have been left without a voice that this pandemic will pass, but the consequences of our reactions and decisions will endure.
Fear will pass. The danger will remain in the past. The doors will finally open. We will fill the streets again. But our behaviors will accompany us – one way or another. And we can be proud of that gesture of responsibility, solidarity and humanity that we had. Proud of the person we were at the time and the person we have become.
At a certain point, when the rebuilding of the broken pieces begins, those images will come back. We will remember each delay, each superfluous debate, each bureaucratic obstacle that cost lives and caused suffering. We will remember everything we could and did not do. Every act of irresponsibility, folly and selfishness.
For now, we have nothing to do but to stay at home, for as long as necessary. Care for the sick. Mourn those who are gone. But we can already imagine the after. And maybe – just maybe – with that image in mind and intuiting others much harder, we can now correct what our “ego” of the future will demand of us.