“The opposite of love is not hate – it’s indifference,” Elie Wiesel told an interviewer soon after winning the Nobel peace prize in 1986, the year I turned eleven, and emigrated to Canada from communist Romania. Three decades later, and in the throes of a global health crisis, Wiesel’s survival, more than ever, bears testament that hope can rise out of the flames of hatred.
When he was fifteen years old, Wiesel and his family were deported to Auschwitz, where his mother and younger sister were massacred. Within a year, he was transferred to Buchenwald, where his father perished shortly before the camp was liberated. Despite unimaginable trauma, Wiesel’s strength of spirit proves that it is possible for positive change to emerge from suffering.
Often it’s not the tragedy itself, but how we respond to it, that defines who we are as human beings. Tragedy has the power to unify us or tear us apart, its transformative power resting in the fact that it is only when wartime, terrorism or a global health crisis pushes us to the brink, that we discover what we’re really made of.
Back in the sixties, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed a five-stage model of death and dying that ranges from denial to acceptance. With COVID-19 now ravaging communities, forcing us to be caged inside an unprecedented quarantine, many are unable to cope and get stuck in the first two stages, denial and anger. As the death toll rises, so do the bigoted and racist attacks; as countries shut their borders, so does the call of nationalism ring louder.