My friends in America ask me almost every day; “How are things there in Crete?” I tell them how lucky we have been since there has not been a case of COVID-19 reported here in over three weeks. Their coronavirus pandemic questions haunt me at times because the answers here on Crete and in Greece seem so patently simple.
The United States is now reeling from the effects of the pandemic, and the world’s biggest economic system seems ready to falter. In addition, since the health and economic reality is sinking in, many are grasping for answers. A TIME story I just read encapsulates the “why” for Greeks coming out ahead of the pandemic. At the end of the report, authors Billy Perrigo and Joseph Hincks conclude by revealing Greek society, which reveals a sad irony compared to what’s happening in America. These writers focus on a Greek accountant named Michalis Stratakis, who happens to live here on Crete.
“For Stratakis in Crete, the sense of responsibility is keenly felt. Although people do not like following government orders, he says, close family ties and respect for the elderly are emphasized in Greek society. “Nobody would forgive themselves if they had the virus and they gave it to their parents,“ he tells TIME. “We couldn’t imagine not celebrating Easter with our relatives next year because they got the virus and left this world.”
Meanwhile, back in the United States, my entitled countrymen bicker and gripe rebel, and grope for answers to a fairly simple pandemic test. The same conundrum that the Cretans face, would have been handled by Americans, in the same way, half a century ago. Today, however, decades of entitlement and “exceptionalism” have created a weak civic thread, which also runs through the weave of family and traditional values. An easy way to categorize this would be to say most Americans are selfish. And this is not a stretch since I know my own people.
Speaking of people. Every day one of my Cretan friends calls to see how we are. Minas Liapakis, Dr. Ioannis Liapakis, Chef Grigoris Koudounas, and a dozen others who’ve adopted us make sure our little family is okay. And this, with their businesses all but ruined, their chances of building dreams put on perpetual hold because of yet another catastrophe. They’re at home, obeying every rule, venturing out only on Good Friday or Easter, just to deliver some red eggs or lamb, and then back inside to play with family for God knows how long. They mind the rules, which is hard for the most rebellious and untamed people on Earth. I wish you people reading this could see them, in their dignified and loving magnificence. They are like we were once.
TIME goes on to suggest the world can learn a lot from the Greeks during these trying times. But, this is something I’ve been saying for three years or more now. Every time somebody back home asks me “Why Crete?” Well, there are 1000 reasons, but none more apparent than the ties that bind this place. Somehow, throughout all the economic and political mess, these Greeks managed to cling to their humanity for dear life.
And there’s your coronavirus pandemic lesson, dear world.