Life @ U of T

Introduction

Homecoming: On Realizing My Social Role in the Era of Social Distancing

Homecoming: On Realizing My Social Role in the Era of Social Distancing

I write this post from self-isolation in my basement. One week ago, if you predicted this, I would have laughed. Just last Thursday, I traveled to another city in Finland for a concert attended by several hundred people. I visited museums, markets and libraries without thinking twice.

A girl sits across a table, which is set with coffee, tea and quiche
My friend and I enjoyed lunch in a cafe during our trip to Turku, Finland

When U of T ended in-person classes, friends from home messaged to check on me. I told them I was fine; my school was still open. When Canadians abroad were advised to return, I thought it didn’t apply to me. I had access to healthcare and housing in Finland for several months. It wouldn’t make sense to travel home and risk exposing vulnerable family members to the virus.

Two girls sit on a park bench in front of a green field. One faces the camera, one looks into the distance.
My roommate and I went for a walk after saying goodbye to The first of Our roommates to Return home. Photo credit to Nimantha fernando.

Reality came on Sunday night in the form of an email from U of T instructing students abroad to return home. That’s when I realized that my decision of whether or not to stay was not a personal choice, but a question of whether I would obey my government, school and family, or defy everyone and act in my own perceived self-interest. It took me twenty-four hours to make that decision.

Three women and one man stand together on a train platform, smiling for the camera.
Four of my roommates on the train platform. Two of them were headed home.

On Monday night, shortly after resolving to come home, I huddled around a laptop with my roommates to watch Emmanuel Macron announce a fourteen-day quarantine across France. Throughout his speech, President Macron kept reiterating “nous sommes à la guerre:” we are at war.

I understand Macron’s analogy; this is a threat to society that requires everyone to make sacrifices for the common good. But surely war is not the only thing that warrants such a sacrifice? Rather than rallying around a common enemy in fear and hatred, we must unite around our common humanity, and act to protect not just ourselves, our families, or our own country, but everyone around the world.

In this period of “social distancing,” we are asked to be more sensitive to our social role than most of us have ever been. In the words of John Donne, “no man is an island entire of itself;” our individual lives are inextricably linked to society. I am amazed by how readily people are answering this call–from the Finnish professor who invited me to stay with her if I needed to, to the friend who drove four hours to pick me up at the airport, so my immuno-suppressed mother would not have to. My social media is flooded with free art, entertainment and resources. Even in physical isolation, I am grateful to be part of this global community, which can overcome barriers of distance and uncertainty, and which I believe will emerge from this crisis stronger than before.

Six people seated around a kitchen table full of food, smiling for the camera.
One of the last dinners my friends and I ate together in Finland.

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