This morning I had an experience which was extremely poignant on more than one level. I had just entered my local supermarket having been asked by the security guard on the door if I have a mask to which I’d replied confidently, ‘I’m exempt’, thinking as I strolled past him, ‘exempt from this authoritarian madness’., and I proceeded to peruse the nearby smoothies.
I then heard a plaintive little voice at the door say something I didn’t catch but I did hear the security guard’s reply: ‘you still need a mask’. I turned to see the sweetest little elderly lady who looked quite distressed so I approached and finished the guard’s intentionally incomplete response by saying, ‘unless you’re exempt….come on in if you’re exempt’. They both looked at me with surprise, then the lady turned to the guard and said, ‘I’m exempt’ before stepping into the store.
At that point her face crumpled and she began to cry so I rushed to her side, put my arm around her shoulder and asked her what was wrong? ‘I’ve lost my wedding ring’ she said, sobbing. I comforted her as a friendly assistant approached and the lady told us both that she had had the ring earlier when she was shopping but upon reaching her car it was gone. I reassured her it must then be here in the shop, on the route to her car or in the car or her shopping bags and the assistant began taking her name and phone number so that she could contact her if the ring was found.
Again the lady’s face crumpled and she said with great sorrow and anguish, ‘I must find it!” I could feel her pain so keenly my heart ached for her and I said, ‘your husband knows you love him, ring or no ring.’ She looked up at me, her eyes full of tears and said, ‘I lost him four years ago’. ‘then he is looking down…’, I replied, ‘…and he knows you love him and he loves you; that is all that matters. Your ring is a symbol of your love, but it is the love that’s real, and you can never lose that.’
She appeared to ease a little upon hearing this and the assistant reassured her they would contact her as soon as there was any news. I then asked the lady to call friends and family to help her search her car and bags when she arrives home and she said she would so I said goodbye asking her not to despair and when she left thanked the assistant for being so kind to her. We had both felt her pain.
Then, as I walked on into the shop, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. It had been such an emotional encounter. The poor lady’s fear that she had lost a precious link with her beloved departed husband with whom she had no doubt spent a lifetime in companionship was deeply affecting. But it wasn’t only that. I realised that in this time when hugging strangers is outlawed I was probably the only person in that whole store who was prepared to offer her the physical comfort she clearly so desperately needed in that moment. I felt a pang in my heart as I imagined her standing there crying with everyone too afraid to come close to her and a wave of anguish rose in my chest as I dwelt on the iniquity of the attempt that has been made to crush our compassion with fear and sever our bonds of tenderness towards one another, to extinguish our very humanity.
I have always, even before Covid, rejected any philosophy, religion or political ideology which does not have humanity at its core. Nothing interests me which fails to recognise our profound interconnection with one another and the vital importance of being able to express our love for our neighbours, be they strangers or familiar to us. And if anyone was ever in any doubt that the elites find this universal love threatening and terrifying then behold the lengths they have gone to in order to eradicate it.
I was glad today that other shoppers, staff and the security guard saw how instinctively and immediately I comforted a sobbing little elderly lady who thought she’d lost her wedding ring. And I am so very happy that I am in contact with so many who would have done exactly the same. Every time we assert our humanity it is a blow to the plan to separate us all in fear and a nail in the coffin of mistrust. Because as much as this battle is about individual rights and freedoms, it is, fundamentally, about our need for kinship and loving connection.
This, for me, is the nature of my resistance, because my freedom will not satisfy me if it isn’t bound to my love for my fellow travelers on this planet and all the life it supports. Empathy is what they are trying to kill. The empathy which is innate in everyone bar psychopaths if it is not suppressed by fear, and it is psychopaths who are in power. Those who do not value or understand love are in control. And so it is love which will defeat them.
Alison Banville is co-editor of BSNews, an independent journalist, singer-songwriter, performance poet and activist.