April 8, 2020

GUEST ROOM | During the Pandemic, Please, Be Kind to Your Families

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A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were gloomily walking home from West Campus dinner, having just helped a mutual friend of ours pack her things and leave campus. In addition to the hollowness of accelerated goodbyes, we both felt enveloped by a numb helplessness. As neither a student of medicine nor someone with talents relevant to stopping the pandemic, I felt sidelined — destined to slide through the upcoming days by applying for scholarships and binge-watching my way through the rest of the break.

But then, without warning, my friend turned to me and unknowingly shattered my passive spring-break mentality. Matter-of-factly, he squinted and remarked: “There will come a day when people will look back on this outbreak and ask, ‘what did you do to better the world in the midst of coronavirus?’”

His words motivated me to think about the ways I can practically help our community through this crisis. In the event you also have been looking for motivation to act during this time, I’d like to pass his challenge on to you, with one addition: Here’s a simple, actionable step that you and I can take to brighten the world.

This April 10 — “Siblings Day” — intentionally do something particularly nice for your siblings.

Yes, the big-picture, community-level acts of service to which we all aspire are indispensable. However, as I’ve often witnessed in my own life over the past three weeks, the enormity of the situation and the vast opportunities for service can be crippling, rather than motivating. Quarantined within our houses, we feel as if there is very little we can do to meaningfully impact the world outside the four walls of our rooms.

Yet we completely overlook the other human beings trapped with us, taking their existence for granted. Solomon — reportedly the wisest of men, though historically plagued with fraternal conflicts — once declared that brothers and sisters are “born to help in times of need.” In this time of need, let’s live up to that noble description.

This is the hour to show our quality. These individuals we call family should be the first to experience our service, devotion and love. So, in the spirit of “charity beginning at home,” I’d like to invite you to join me in this experiment.

No, it’s not your sibling’s birthday, and, yes, I do understand many are struggling with the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak. I’m not asking you to spend money — as if there were stores open. In fact, there’s a good chance you and the siblings might not even be on the best of terms with one another right now, having been cooped up together for several weeks.

I know a bit about spending most of my waking moments with family. I was homeschooled through high school, which meant that the majority of my days were spent within the confines of my home, studying, reading, playing music, laughing, fighting and living life with my sister and parents. Shoutout to my little sister back home — I love you 3,000!

So, yeah. I’ve experienced a bit of this before. Quarantine? Sort of. Lectures over video call? Yep. School from home? It’s like second nature.

Trust me when I urge you, despite the boredom and family squabbles and stepped-on toes of the past — and the next — few months, to love those aggravating, thoroughly exhausting siblings. Make April 10 a special day for them. Bake cookies, watch a movie together, learn a duet, offer to look over their college application or maybe open up and share a bit about the struggles you’re dealing with in your own life. While I could try to provide you dozens of ideas, only you know your sibling’s interests, personality, pet peeves and hobbies. Go out of your way and surprise them — even if the results aren’t what you expected.

If I were you, I’d plan your activity out, confidentially run it by a couple of family members and then draft a note to your sibling — describing how much you care about them and that you would love to spend part of the day with them. Who knows — perhaps this activity could become a memorable tradition for you both.

I freely admit “Siblings Day” can sound like a pretty tacky celebration. But in the midst of this coronavirus crisis, I do believe a sense of unity and joy in the face of disaster, and not woodenly grinning and bearing it, is exactly what we must value and sustain.

These are uncertain times. Every day, we read of clergy administering last rites over phone, beloved members of our communities quietly passing on and selfless nurses struggling to ensure that no patient dies alone. Just last month, an older brother, NYC nurse Kious Kelly, texted his younger sister, promising he was “okay” despite having contracted coronavirus. In less than a week, he passed away.

We should cherish every moment with family not in spite of, but because of, these dark times in which we live.

So, whether your brothers or sisters live down the hall or 1,600 miles away, reach out a hand, make a phone call, or write them a note. Each day we have with them is truly precious.


Caleb Harden is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.