Opinion

Paul McNamee: In isolation we’re still here for you

Soon, this will all change for the better

I’m a little obsessed by the story of the travellers trapped in the Indian railway station. It is incredible. Such was the abrupt immediacy of the national coronavirus lockdown in India, that a group of travellers were left stranded in the station in the city of Varanasi. India carries 23 million rail passengers a day. Imagine that whole surging essential life force just stopping.

There are about 50 of these forsaken people, stuck in a deserted place since March 25, hundreds of miles from home, waiting for a train that will not come. Among them are children, a lawyer, labourers, students and pilgrims. It reads like the set-up for a Netflix binge-watch.

But there is no resolution, no end of season pay-off. There they are, filling time in a waiting room, doing yoga and watching classic Hindi movies. They don’t know how long this will last. “Is this life,” asked one of them. It is a question that rings out globally. We’re all philosophers now.

We know that we were here before all this, we are here now and we will be here when this is over

I think of those trapped people when I fancy moping. I think of others too. A lot of us are doing the same, because lockdown is making us, forcing us, to admit that many others have things immeasurably worse. The lockdown has equalised the baseline for our shared experience. And we can judge our place on that line according to the positives we put against it. So, we are grateful for small pleasures, to be able to work, to have a sense of purpose, to have good company at home that is welcomed, or to be able to communicate readily with friends and family beyond. Because of this we feel more empathetic towards those without.

Examples of impact are legion. In the US, for example, in the last month, 22 million people applied for unemployment benefit. That is staggering. Closer to home, we see how it is punishing the bereaved. Until just a few days ago they were unable to be with dying relatives, unable to mourn properly in a time when grief takes heavy flight

Here at The Big Issue we know that hundreds of men and women, our vendors, are feeling isolated and lonely. They need emotional support and they need money. Our push to reinvent the way we sell the magazine is bringing in money that we can then deliver to these vendors in need. And staff are doing all they can to be there on the end of a phone or by whatever means communication is bridged, to offer less tangible, but every bit as vital, support.

And then what? What of after?

Well we don’t know, not yet. But in times when the energy dips and the emotion bites, we within The Big Issue see the support, we see you, our readers, posting messages explaining how happy you are to receive your magazines, we hear your requests to pass hellos along to your vendors. We carry them the greetings the other way as well. We know what matters. And we know that we were here before all this, we are here now and we will be here when this is over. It may be we’re needed more than ever then. And we know you’ll be with us too.

Soon, this will all change for the better. 

Paul McNamee is the Editor of The Big Issue

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