Among those stranded overseas in this hour of the plague is Chandra Fernando, who taught little children at the Montessori School off Greenspring Valley Road for several decades and now spreads her message of peace around the planet.
She is the gentlest soul I know, and one of the wisest, and a revered friend of my family for the last four decades.
A native of Sri Lanka, she returned there several weeks ago. It’s less a vacation than an annual pilgrimage. For the last 15 years -– since Sri Lanka’s 2004 tsunami -– she’s traveled there, and to countries across Europe and Asia, to raise money and to share her insights on education and peace.
In Sri Lanka this month, she worked with medical professionals who help special needs children. She helped raise money for families still affected by last year’s Easter bombings of churches and hotels that killed more than 250 people. She spread money that she’d helped raise for families still touched by the 2004 tsunami that killed 30,000 and displaced more than 1.5 million from their homes.
And then, about to come back to Baltimore, she learned that her flights had been cancelled in the current coronavirus troubles.
“After some moments of panic,” she wrote this week from Sri Lanka, “I have now settled down to make the best of the situation.”
That includes, without apology, watching a lot of television news. Some of us watch it to validate our anger, or our political persuasions. We holler at the set, we want hints of upcoming relief.
Chandra watches and sees “a world of unity, kindness, warmth, gentleness and altruism. When humanity comes together, it is capable of so many acts of benevolence and magnanimity.
“The lone figure of Pope Francis walking down the empty streets of Rome to pray for the sick is a great gesture of compassion and care. Then you see two young children, a brother and sister in Ohio, performing a duet for elderly people.
“You see Italians, who have experienced the brunt of this crisis in Europe and are forced to be in isolation on their own balconies, singing operas to entertain one another across the street. In Spain, you see the unsung heroes of this pandemic, first responders, nurses and doctors being applauded in a sense of gratitude.
“In almost every country where Covid-19 has devastated the lives of thousands of individuals, others have come forward to show their thanks and appreciation to many others who have lined up to volunteer to shop for senior citizens, to pay grocery bills, to give huge tips of thousands of dollars to restaurant workers and delivery drivers.
“These are teachers who coach students on line and saxophone players whose trumpets bring much needed melodies and tunes to cheer up the old and the sick.”
The coronavirus isn’t going away, not for a while. But while it’s here, we can wallow in our fear and anxiety, or revel in humanity’s soulful gestures of help and healing.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.