The emotion that greeted the news that 10 intensive care nurses from Crete – and several others from areas nearer to Thessaloniki – were volunteering to help their colleagues in the northern port city, reminded us of how surprised we are by actions that show what should be self-evident: We are all living in the same country, fellow travelers on the same national journey.
Even as public life remains hostage to pettiness, showboating and division, thousands of doctors, nursing staff, technicians, assistants, cleaners, medical students and so many others are fighting against a cunning enemy, exhaustion and countless difficulties. The decision by some women and men to throw themselves into the fire at the other end of the country, before the pandemic reaches tipping point in their own cities, is an act of healing, an antidote to the selfishness and egotism to which we are accustomed.
Crete and Macedonia have strong ties, from the large contingent of Cretans who fought in the Macedonian Struggle and the Balkan Wars which liberate the area from the Ottoman Empire, to the many thousands of young Cretans who have studied in Thessaloniki, forging lifelong bonds with the city and its people. The decision of the Cretan nurses might reflect this relationship. But it might be something more personal and, at the same time, national: a sense that when we are able to offer help we do not consider personal risk, that we belong to a whole and each has the responsibility to do whatever is possible for the common good.
Getting worked up on behalf of some or other party, some or other team or group, we forget that the pandemic, Turkish belligerence and the fluid international situation show that our small nation needs every one of us, that we are all on the same side. That is why today some people are rushing to Thessaloniki to wage battle, and why, before this, volunteers have been trained to help out in emergencies as well as in dealing with chronic problems, such as drug addiction, homelessness and mass migration.
Parties, football teams and numberless interest groups have learned to pursue gains through a combination of aggression and complaint. But the pandemic has shown that heroes – those who matter to us – are not those who shout, who threaten, who mock and divide, but those who place themselves in danger beyond what is asked of them. Nameless, in their flimsy armor of plastic and paper, they fight with death.