We can no longer buffer ourselves

Published May 1, 2003

Dear editor, While out walking our dog this week I spoke with another individual who was walking their dog. Somehow my role as a chaplain at Markham Stouffville Hospital (which was hit by an outbreak of Severe Acute Repiratory Syndrome, or SARS) entered into the small talk. When this person heard this revelation I was asked: Shouldn’t you be wearing a mask? I felt uncomfortable and rather embarrassed. I guess I could have quipped back something sarcastic or witty but instead I was dumbfounded, stunned that I was labeled “unclean.” While reading a reflection by Archbishop Rowan Williams of his experience of Sept. 11, something he stated seemed relevant to this chance experience in the park. How can we imagine that, in a shrinking world, we could forever postpone being touched by the majority experience? This also reminded me of the tears of Stephen Lewis when he recounts the effects of AIDS on Africa. Echoes of this chance encounter in the park now tugged at my heart. If I am embarrassed or caught off guard by the misinformation others receive of me, what about the pleas for help by those who truly face “unclean” situations, pleas that seem to fall on deaf ears? If SARS teaches us anything on a philosophical or moral level perhaps it has sensitized us to the far greater global experience of others. No longer can we buffer ourselves from the poor and sick. We are experiencing what earthquakes, failing infrastructures, lack of clean water and malnutrition have translated into the daily risks and experiences of millions of people, experiences of “unclean” and unhealthy situations. The distance between others and us has been lessened. We too know what it means to be afraid. Donald Shields
Markham, Ont.


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