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The Age of the New Heroes

The Age of the New Heroes

Monday, 27 December, 2021 - 06:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

No one will miss the year that is taking its last breaths. If one had the opportunity to cross it out of their life, they would in a heartbeat.

The joy of living lies in being normal, warm and beautiful; for setbacks to be acceptable and tolerable. Living behind facemasks is not enjoyable even if it is necessary. It is not enjoyable to avoid handshakes, embraces and sitting around a table.

Human warmth is the most beautiful kind of warmth. It may be the only solace in this brutal world. A world where a mother hesitates in hugging her children or her grandchildren. Approaching neighbors is like crossing a field of barbed wire that has been set up between every human being. There is no friendship in isolation. True amity is not forged with walls. Man was not created to remain cooped up. His fate is like that of birds that are destined to fly and soar, migrate and come back. This staying in place only brings up pains, like trees that are on the verge of snapping.

During the final days of the year, man reviews his calculations, his actions throughout the year and checks his age. The businessman tallies the opportunities that were seized and those that were lost. The politician reviews the latest opinion polls and the latest developments in the world of delusions. The employee asks about the cost of living and incentives, while bosses put up a half-smile at the end of the year to quash the hopes of workers.

The best thing a journalist can do at the end of the year is avoid reviewing its developments. If he doesn't, then he will be confronted with many painful images and left feeling depressed. It's enough to just observe the images of floating bodies of youths who have despaired of living in cruel nations or at the mercy of failed governments. The corpses that returned to Erbil in the past two days after the people failed to reach British shores is best evidence of this. The sea is treacherous. It is like land, but even harsher.

The journalist can stop and ponder what is happening in the American-Russian-Chinese triangle and what is in store for them in the new year. He may also ponder the fate of the nuclear negotiations with Iran and wonder how long the Middle East will have to continue live under Tehran's shadow and its destabilizing activities.

I told myself I'm better off avoiding such a revision. Instead, I arranged a park date with my British neighbor Saxton, who had spent his life in the musical and literary arts. Now in his 90s, he lives alone and only leaves the house for food. His only companion is his walking stick. I worried over him and the possibility he may contract the coronavirus or the Omicron variant.

"I am not afraid of death. When you turn 90, you expect death to show up at any minute," he said. "I am worried, however, that I may leave this earth before it declares its victory over the pandemic and deals it a knockout blow. I know that the history of the world was never rosy. Brutal wars and destructive invasions. The razing of cities and civilizations. Death is a constant presence in human history. It is often caused by man himself or by natural disasters."

"I know that the coronavirus has not yet taken the top stop in the world's most lethal pandemics. I believe it will not," he added. "The world has known pandemics that have left tens of millions of victims. The plague was more terrible than the coronavirus and it claimed many more lives. The last century's Spanish Flu killed 50 million people and infected a quarter of the world population. Five hundred years ago, smallpox claimed the lives of 56 million people."

"All this is true, but the current massacre is more painful because it is taking place at a time when man has flown to the moon, succeeded in uncovering many secrets and achieved technological and scientific revolutions that have increased his confidence in confronting pandemics," he continued.

Saxton, who witnessed the horrors of World War II, said: "The coronavirus war is more dangerous and fierce. During World War II, you could hide in a bomb shelter or behind a wall. You could run away to the countryside or neutral ground. With the coronavirus, you have no safe or immune areas. Death has reached the most far-flung islands."

"During World War II, you had fronts of weapons, men and feelings of solidarity. During the COVID-19 war, man became a terrified island. You do not fear a bomb from a plane or missile shrapnel. You fear the breath of your son, brother or work colleague. It is as if danger lurks everywhere and comes from everything that moves around you," he said.

"During the world war, you trusted that combat efforts will lead to their desired results. You knew who the enemy was and where they lived. You knew that one day, he will come to you exhausted and ready to sign for peace, a surrender or a truce. These elements do not exist with an unknown and address-less enemy like the coronavirus," he remarked.

"When you turn 90, you are not supposed to fear death. It is inevitable, whether during the COVID-19 pandemic or not. The tragedy is that mankind's confidence in its progress and advances has been shaken. Gone are the aspects of the normal way of life and people have been transformed into terrified creatures that hide behind facemasks. My greatest fear is uncovering the extent of the losses in human lives, the economy and people's education. These losses will emerge later when the pandemic is defeated and its grip is loosened on its hostages. Increased unemployment and mounting feelings of despair are all mines that will explode in coming years," he predicted.

We spoke at length, but I paused at his final remark. "My heroes were Strauss, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Balzac, Proust, Flaubert and Stendhal. They were worthy of admiration and their titles," he said. "Now, I greatly admire the new unknown heroes: The men and women who stand on the frontlines in the fight against the pandemic. They fight at hospitals to save the lives of the infected from the clutches of the serial killer. I spent my life at awe with musicians and authors, but the pandemic-struck world can only be saved by scientists and doctors."

I liked the idea of the new heroes, the members of the medical team who fight in painful circumstances and sometimes their dedication costs them their life. The best way to end the year would see the world bow down before the new heroes, as without their perseverance, the serial killer would have reaped a record number of victims, which are already in the millions.

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