When I read that Ebola was in Dallas, which had been my home for two and a half years, I was both grateful that I had moved away in 2012 and concerned for my Dallas friends. When I later read that the Ebola victim, Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, had unfortunately succumbed to the disease, I did some digging to find out where he was living. Then I learned that Duncan had not just been in my old city, he had been living in my old neighborhood, one block away from my former apartment. And with that, I stopped imagining Ebola personified, rampaging through Dallas. I now saw a man with a story who had suffered a tragedy.
My old apartment building was next to an unofficial immigrant community. Depending on the time of day, that street looked like a movie scene: women balancing baskets of laundry on their heads, men standing in groups smoking and chatting, street cart vendors selling food I had never heard of, people playing soccer in the field almost every night. My bank teller lived there briefly when he emigrated from Africa before beginning courses at a nearby college. Many residents there had left situations Americans can scarcely imagine to find a better life. The American Dream lives there.
The fact that Ebola is in the United States for the first time in history is frightening, obviously. Americans, at least based on my Facebook feed and various news outlets, are alternating between freaking out and screaming at everyone to stop freaking out. While our government and security and healthcare works out the problems in the porous TSA screenings, lack of adequate plans on how to deal with this disease (Nigeria’s successful policies will be invaluable), and our hospitals update their resources for a disease we have never had to deal with, we are currently tempted to surrender to blinding fear. Unfortunately, humans have a bad habit of needing a scapegoat, regardless of the nature of the problem. Someone must be to blame! Otherwise, we are left in the uncomfortable position of realizing our own helplessness, and we as a species do not relish that sensation.
In the midst of the storm driven by fear and anger, Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas remembered the people who were suffering the most: Thomas Duncan’s family. While mourning the heartbreaking loss of a loved one, they also had to deal with the possibility that they may have contracted the disease, and during that terrible time, Bishop Farrell offered them a place to stay during their 21 day quarantine. Mercifully, the family is doing well, and all have been officially cleared of mandatory monitoring. In the meantime, Bishop Farrell is continuing to offer them housing as long as they need it.
“We help people because we’re Catholic, not because they’re Catholic,” he said. “It is an example of what it means to care for our brothers and sisters…irrespective of where they come from, what race or what religion they were.” Farrell further stresses the importance of putting a stop to the fear and panic around Ebola: “I hope the whole community can now come together,” he said. “We’re all Christians. What would Jesus have done?”
It is easy to pontificate about human error and policy missteps after the fact from the safety of our desk chairs, and people are a little too eager to join the cacophony of hindsight corrections. While our government and our medical community focuses on improving policies and taking practical steps to stop the spread of the disease, as a community we must remember that the ill are people who deserve mercy, not soulless virus incubators. Mother Teresa reminded us how to live out the works of mercy, and now Bishop Farrell has also shown us the way of Christian charity during this time of fear. Bishop Farrell is an inspiration.