By Hoang Nguyen SVD
It is time for me to adapt to another way of life. I am a Divine Word seminarian who is living and studying in Spain. This country has been my host country for the past seven months.
I live in a community in Dueñas, Palencia, which is two hours north of Madrid. Now that my formal studies are completed, I continue learning new things at home. With the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in Spain last month, I have heard many heartbreaking stories. However, I also have heard stories that inspire and encourage.
As a student learning Spanish, I read as much as I can every day from whatever I can find. I make a practice of finding a story in the newspaper that I can share with one of the priests with whom I live. I have shared story after story about COVID-19 and people’s fear of the deadly virus. Finally, one of my confreres reminded me that there are positive stories too.
My priest instructor’s comment reminded me of what I learned at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. It is so important to have a balance of stories about any place. Even though the virus has brought sadness to the world, this virus has awakened us to a new consciousness.
We cannot just sit around and wait for something good to happen. Most of us, in fact, are making a better reality at home, work and in our communities. I have seen neighbors waving at me from their front yard for the first time since I arrived in Spain.
People in other towns, who live in apartments, come out at night to stand on their balconies and sing to each other, talk to each other from a distance, and wave while wishing each other well. Indeed, they are connected. Seeing these positive people on TV gives me hope for better days.
Though people practice social distancing, they are still in solidarity with one another. In other words, people are united to fight this war against the COVID-19 by being supportive of others and collaborative with one another.
Social distancing is so contrary to being a Spaniard. Since I arrived in the country, I have observed people on the street converse with each other from a close distance. When a woman and man meet each other, they often give each other kisses on both cheeks. But now, kisses and close distance are gone. However, what is not gone is their being supportive of each other.
One writer, Nuria Labari, shares her vision in El País, a Spanish-language daily newspaper in Madrid. She wrote, “Cuando una sociedad es solidaria como la nuestra lo está siendo, en tonces sentimos que formamos parte de algo más grande y más importante que nosotros missos.”
In English, it reads, “When a society is as supportive as ours is, we feel that we are part of something bigger and more important than ourselves.”
Nuria went on to say, “Give us courage to face life. To also face disease and even this virus. Even to be better persons.” What I have learned from people like Nuria is that after this pandemic virus, no one will be afraid to face something as deadly as this virus again.
Schools have been closed. Streets are empty, but homes are full. The people usually get together at home to play dominoes and card games, like Chinchón, which is a famous matching card game in Spain.
Nuria writes that the children are learning something fundamental these days without school. I agree with Nuria because whenever there is a problem, there is always something good that we can learn from it.
Like me, these young people probably have a lot of free time to learn new skills at home since they do not have homework assignments to do. According to Nuria, “Our children are experiencing an active and determined solidarity capable of changing things to protect the weakest.”
I really admire those who come out on their apartment balconies in big cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla to applaud medical workers. In this way, the local people are helping medical professionals fight COVID-19 by being supportive of them. Like the local people, I have to stay indoors and keep healthy for the sake of others and for these medical professionals.
Things may get worse, but one thing I know for sure is that I am still learning new things in these difficult times. The people are my teachers. I have no doubt that we are going to get through this together.
I cannot wait to wear a shirt that says, “I Survived COVID-19” with the local people. I cannot wait to celebrate our victory with these people. I cannot wait to hear young people say, “I am stronger than ever. I am more fearless than ever. I love serving other people more than ever. And I am more faithful than ever.” So far in this lockdown, in addition to noticing the negative newspaper stories, I also have come to learn from the local people to stay positive even in the most difficult situations, to be supportive of others, especially of those who are vulnerable, and to appreciate those who are still working out there on the frontlines, fighting for our lives and our future. Let us stay positive together.
Divine Word seminarian Hoang Nguyen is in Spain, fulfilling his Cross-Cultural Training, which is part of his religious formation. Currently, Spain has the second more cases of COVID-19 in Europe.