TODAY IS THOUGHTFUL THURSDAY. Let us ponder: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Written by Charles Dickens about the French Revolution, it could easily apply to this pandemic. I, too, have a tale to tell. And it starts with these two men:
Meet Arnaud and Julien, neighbors of a friend of mine in the south of France. On the first day of national lockdown, my friend heard a knock at her door, and opened it to find this adorable couple whom she had not met before. They were going around, door to door, in the building offering to help with errands, and to lend some comfort. The message: you are not alone.
The next day, they sent my friend a text, just to check in and see how she was doing. A week later, she received another text saying that they were at the market if she needed anything, which she very much did since hauling heavy bags is not easy for her and she’d been putting it off. They delivered her groceries, cheerfully. Truly remarkable, selfless human beings risking their own safety to help those in need. A stellar example of the best in us during this time.
Then this appeared in their mailbox, unsigned:
In summary: Dear Sir, We have nothing against homosexuals but we know that like with AIDS, you carry disease. You do what you want with your bizarre ways, but you could infect young children and those in fragile health [with Covid-19], so please don’t touch our doors, especially to go around offering help (we above all don’t want any [from you]), and don’t touch the entry doors or the doors to the trash room. As for the security keypad, use your electronic key fob; do not touch the keypad to enter the building….
I’ll give you a moment to lift your jaw from the table.
The letter went on to thank the men for their understanding and their “altruism” toward others. That’s some irony right there. This act of ignorance and intolerance made it into the local press, then the Parisian news. The police were contacted, as this is considered a bias crime.
The worst of times. But that’s not the point of my tale because the very best of times is yet to come. This, below, was a response to the anonymous missive, posted by the main entrance to the building:
It was written and signed by residents who are healthcare workers. But you’ll see that the letter has since sprouted other signatures (someone has even dared to attach a communal pen, inviting others to sign as well). What are they all signing their names to?
We are first aid workers, emergency room doctors, physiotherapists, surgeons. Contrary to what you believe you are authorized to write, imbued with your scientific ignorance, we are more exposed to Covid-19 than all of our neighbors, whatever their sexual orientation. You will, therefore, hopefully be delighted to learn that we are blithely tapping on the digicode keypad several times a day, and throwing away our garbage in the trash room, using the doorknob to open the door.
If you would like to leave us a letter—anonymous of course!—do not hesitate. We’ll make good use of it if ever there is a shortage of toilet paper.
They tell the anonymous hate-spreader that in light of the fact that he or she cannot avoid coming in contact with those who are risking their lives to help others, that perhaps “it would be better if you moved out of our residence, in which homophobia, cowardice, and discrimination—we dare to believe—have no place.” The letter is signed, “Salutations in solidarity.”
We are all in this together. The building rushed to send Arnaud and Julien the same message that they themselves had been delivering with their own selfless acts of kindness: you are not alone.
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Shall we be our best selves, our worst? What will history say of the way were during these times?