A Hypothetical Dialogue

An elderly Italian man hugs a Chinese national in solidarity against racism. He contracted Coronavirus and becomes seriously ill. Examination all but certainly determines that his condition is mortal. In his hospital bed, he is visited by an estranged neighbor, with whom he has disagreed over immigration for moral reasons.

NEIGHBOR: I am sorry to see you in this condition. But after all these years of you calling us nasty names for feeling concern about immigration, will you at least acknowledge that we were not irrational all these years? I want to be reconciled with you in your final days, but I cannot in good conscience rescind my own views, for my children’s sake. But perhaps we can still be friends.

MAN: Why would you think I am mistaken because I am dying? I have no regrets! All of life is a risk, and loving our neighbors, near and far, is a risk. We all have to die someday. I paid the price for living as I thought correct, and I would pay it again. But for your children’s safety, I have no words of consolation: they too will one day die. You have no choice in that. But you have a choice in teaching them whether or not to live in love or to live in fear.

NEIGHBOR: You talk of love as if it was somehow separate from the world, divorced from its effects. But my love for my children is what drives me to protect them. True, they will die one day, but a needless, stupid and early death is different from a seasonal death in old age, and it is disturbing to hear an older man speak to youths in that way. No one can love everyone; the wolf kills the deer out of love for her pups, and the deer would starve the wolf for love of her own fawns. We all must choose carefully, but there is room for true neighbors in that choice, which is why I have come to you now.

MAN: I am sorry but we cannot be friends — indeed, we are not even neighbors — because you have rejected love and chosen its opposite: hatred. What do I care of effects? It is the experience of emotion and connection with others which matter more…

The man tried to explain, but the neighbor had already turned away, realizing the vanity of his visit, already indifferent to the words of the dying martyr. The elderly man died the next day, as did many others who had made similar gestures.

Six months later, nobody left alive in Italy spoke of immigration in matters of love and hatred.

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