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Thursday, January 21, 2021

The biggest lesson from 2020: compassion and selflessness

COVID-19 is a clarion call to reflect upon our actions and choices and to remember that, in the end, what goes around, comes around.

Written by Suvir Saran | Updated: December 27, 2020 2:25:16 pm
new york city, hebronLife lessons: A tale of two cities — New York City and Hebron (Photo credit: Suvir Saran)

As the pandemic goes on, it shows no mercy. Death and sickness stalk us. Life as we knew it 10 months ago is eroding. Stripped of the veneers of civility and development, 2020 has shown how little we have progressed since the end of the World War II, even as we speak of the world as a global village.

Disparity has always been the despair of humanity. In recent decades, we have seen it reveal the rot in our midst, one that we have to accept as being of our own making.

For 27 years, I lived between New York City and a farmstead in a village called Hebron, nestled between the Adirondack mountains of New York and the picturesque Green Mountains of Vermont. While in the city, I enjoyed the high of the New York minute and the thrill would intensify each time I arrived from the farm. The 70 acres of luxuriant green living and an organic lifestyle never made me feel as comfortable and safe as the city. At least not outside of our farm’s boundaries and those of dear friends.

My life partner and I worked hard to create a home on the farm that welcomed one and all and was connected to nature. Hives carefully tended by a trained apiarist brought millions of bees buzzing around wild and cultivated flowers. Four dozen alpacas roamed our pastures, drinking from a state-designated trout stream, and 50 ducks and geese ranged free on our property and found a safe haven in our pond. Two hundred chickens of over three dozen varieties — all endangered, rare, or threatened — lived in a coop that Michael Batterberry, the late publisher of such magazines as Food and Wine and Food Arts, called the “Palazzo de Pollo”, the palace for chickens. They had screened windows with shutters for the blistery winter; ceiling rafters and skylights kept their home light and bright and ensured that they breathed fresh air free of ammonia. These chickens defied all previously understood norms about chicken husbandry and lived happily despite their differences in sizes and forms. Even the roosters in our flock didn’t get aggressive. Then there was Antonio Banderas, our majestic, charming, and almost-human llama — a gift from the neighbour whose alpacas we rescued when she couldn’t afford keeping them.

Our fields, our care, and our food and housing kept these animals from money-hungry and inhumane breeders. We had a huge family of otherwise shy blue herons, wild turkeys and geese, too, as well as deer and rabbits. But the prize was the family of five mountain lions, who, when spotted, scared us but whose presence made us proud of how we were maintaining our parcel on this planet.

You could call our farm Utopia — a labour of mad and deep love. Our farmhouse was our safe haven, our comfortable place to host and entertain. We opened it to neighbours and strangers, alike. We made friends, changed lives, and were also at the receiving end of this enriching exchange. We savoured the slow pace of life and being connected to Mother Earth. We cherished living as one with the seasons and braved their challenges as happily as we enjoyed their resplendency. But we were lucky to not have had a revolution begin due to the glaring disparity between our fairy-tale life and the misfortunes of many of our neighbours — adversities that were not their fault, but their lot because they were born into a generational lack of opportunity and access. We did our best to be responsible neighbours, extending our creature comforts to others around, and we knew others doing the same. But we were the minority. Living in this rural outpost just a few hours north of New York City, I saw great disparity in the wealthiest and most powerful nation of the world.

My father, visiting us from India, would say that we lived in the fourth world in Hebron. He was heartbroken by the poverty in rural America. He would say that the developing world knows its challenges and faces them, but the US works hard to hide its broken reality: families living in the Tundra winter with no heating; another family so broken that they gassed themselves to death when they were unable to pay their creditors; children who would come to school hungry on Monday, not having eaten a meal since they left for home on Friday; children and adults wasting away because a hospital visit would bankrupt them; youngsters being homeschooled by parents who couldn’t educate them but thought it better to not expose their lives to uncaring and judgemental neighbours; families eating food that was neither whole nor fresh — and this while working as farmers.

Why should anyone have to worry about taking a loved one to a doctor and getting their illness treated? Why should a hospital visit be the reason someone becomes homeless and jobless? How can a rural outpost ever truly be part of a global village when there is no affordable high-speed internet access?

This year has shown what afflicts us across all borders and on every side of the political aisle. The Donald Trumps of this world do not come from a vacuum. They are the result of a system that has failed. For every leader like Trump, there are millions of people broken by society. When comfort and advantage for the lucky come with the marginalisation of other people, all of us suffer.

Humans have always treated each other unfairly; greed is as old as humanity. The internet and social media have brought inequity front and centre and have also heightened its repercussions. The coronavirus will die like we all do; life will go on, with or without us. Riches fly as easily as they come and fame is temporary. To leave a lasting legacy, we must rise above the easy traps of material gains. COVID-19 is a clarion call to reflect upon our actions and choices, to be kind and unselfish and to remember that, in the end, what goes around, comes around.

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