“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try and spend the night with a mosquito in your room”
~ Dalai Lama
It feels like this quote, commonly attributed to the Dalai Lama, has taken on a whole new dimension in these last few weeks.
Apparently a single Covid-19 particle – you know the one, spherical thing covered in little bobbles – is only 125 nano-metres wide. If I’ve got my maths right, you’d have to put 788 of them next to each other to get to the width of an average human hair. ‘Well, but you need more than one Covid-19 particle to make a global pandemic’, you say. Sure. And I’m no scientist, but presumably there will have been that one first one, which soon turned into two then four then sixteen. I think we’ve all been looking at so many scarily steep graphs that we’ve well and truly understood the concept of exponential growth without me needing to go into a detailed explanation here.
A particle a 788th of the size of a human hair has changed our world from one day to the next. It has forced entire countries into pulling up their drawbridges, rolling up their pavements, halting almost everything that had hitherto made up life as we knew it. Both Samye Ling and Samye Dzong had to lock their doors. At Spa Road whole new routines of sanitising, washing, cooking, shopping are being implemented.
The tiny-virus-leads-to-huge-change correlation first occurred to me when I listened to an episode of Radiolab (great podcast series), in which its producers pondered the current crisis and what they wanted to say about it that hadn’t been said before. Latif Nasser, the programme’s director of research, said while he’d been thinking a lot about face-masks and toilet paper supply chains, he also found himself contemplating the virus itself and asking himself questions like: “Is it alive? What does it want? What is its internal monologue?”
Funnily enough, viruses are considered to be in a grey area between living and non-living. But Nasser’s questions made me shift my perspective from thus far having seen only the inconvenience, only the abstract indeterminate threat, only the medical emergency, only the suffering caused to asking myself: "What message are we meant to take away?" I haven’t got an answer to that, but the question humbles me, makes me respect this virus, makes me realise that it forces us to act; small though it may be.
It also makes me realise that in response to the exponential growth of Covid-19, the ingenuity of humanity, our ability to build, decide, help also had to expand and multiply. If you think, your one act of kindness for a neighbour who needs assistance, won’t make a difference, think of that minuscule virus particle and how once multiplied it changed the world. Now it’s our turn to do the same.
If you could have a chat with the virus, what would you say to it?"