18 March 2020

The ‘We’ that ‘I’ forgot

One of my most fascinating childhood memories is the film ‘The Land That Time Forgot.’  A fantasy/adventure film based upon an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel by the same name, it is set during World War 1 and has survivors of a British merchant ship taking over the German U-boat that torpedoes their vessel. The U-boat goes off course and is running out of fuel, when the crew discover an uncharted vegetated subcontinent vegetated replete with prehistoric creatures and primitive men.

There are lands that time and circumstances make us forget. Places we’ve known, been to, even lived in but which slip through memory-fingers. We rediscover them in moments of tragedy or when we are off-course and running out of resources. The land that I am referring to is ‘The Collective.’ And what sent us off-course with depleted resources is ‘The Individual.’ It’s the ‘we’ that ‘I forgot, to put it another way.

About twenty years ago a US television station asked people if they knew about ‘Smith-Corona.’ Almost everyone interviewed knew nothing while some ventured, ‘beer?’ It was a typewriter brand which went bankrupt in 2000, probably because people had moved to computers. If a similar survey  was done a few months ago, no one would have mentioned typewriters but some would have said ‘beer.’ Today, it’s a virus. The entire world knows it. And that’s what brings us to ‘we’ and ‘I’.

There’s hope and there’s arrogance in thinking ‘it won’t get me.’ It can lull us into carelessness that could prove tragic. We learned this during those long years when the entire country was held hostage by terrorism. ‘The war’ was a faraway thing until it hit us between the eyes, so to speak. We realized soon enough that it pays to be cautious. We learned to be alert. It was self-preservation of course, but we had moved from ‘it won’t happen to me,’ to ‘it could happen to me.’ Whether we acknowledged it or not, whether we consciously connected with others for a collective effort, it was a coming together that helped the country rid itself of the terrorist menace.

Then we forgot all about it.

Then came Corona. And we are going through the panic phase. We are fixated on self-preservation. We are thinking ‘it won’t happen to me.’ We are learning to be cautious. We are becoming alert. None of these things are necessarily bad.

In the end though, it is only if we see how inextricably linked ‘I’ is to ‘we’ or ‘us’ that we can get out of this with minimal damage. That’s how it has always been in times of crisis. Indeed, if we are slow to understand this it is because we have forgotten that we have been most efficient, most productive and most safe when we have affirmed togetherness, not just among ourselves but the entire biotic world.

We are connected, whether we like it or not. We are inter-dependent. We are not islands, but continents. We are elements of cycles. There’s no place to hide. We cannot absolutely isolate ourselves.

And yet we are fixated with ‘I’. We have forgotten ‘we’.  We think ‘self-preservation’ when at the supermarket. Just imagine, however, if you can purchase all hand-sanitizers and all disinfectants available. What would it mean? It means that we deny our fellow citizens the opportunity to obtain some basic protection. We make them vulnerable. How long could we last if everyone succumbs? And even if everyone else dies, who would be be thereafter? Alive but terribly lonely and without any sense of meaning or purpose.

That’s extreme, I know. However, what’s this side of ‘extreme’ is not pretty either.

We can beat this. Together. It’s all about being responsible; being conscious of basic civic responsibilities, that is. It is about looking out for one another, family members to neighbors to community, nation and beyond. It’s about being diligent about the small things, the basic precautions. It is about being honest in the event symptoms show up. Self-quarantining when required. Following procedures laid down by health authorities. Collaboration in all matters. Avoiding the no-no things.

We might err. We might slip. We might fall. We must learn from all that but most importantly, we must rediscover the community, the collective. The ‘we’ and ‘us’.  Togetherness: if we come through, this will be key because 'We' is a land that time made us forget but it is a place we can always return to.

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [March 18, 2020]

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News' on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week]