15th April 2020

Whilst taking my daily constitutional I was struck by the sudden stirrings of a normality returning to the world around. An upsurge in motor traffic, easily tripled from the day before, an abundance of exercisers, perhaps fifteen or twenty where yesterday there was but one, and a congruent laxness in personal precaution, masks and distancing. My mind wandering quite as widely as ever was coincidentally led to recall a not wholly unrelated set of circumstance from the deep dark confines of my memory.

At the height of the tensions between Bosnia and Serbia their still existed on the border not far Ravno Bučje  a small village, built over the centuries from roughhewn rock harvested from the  nearby mountain peaks,  that was quite exceptionally treated by both nations  as if a country unto itself, left totally alone by both military, easy access permitted but egress halted quite effectively with border posts on  either side.

The population of this village was made up of those who had fallen victim to and would no doubt perish from that scourge of the Levant, leprosy. The village whilst populated by members of both the Muslim faith and the Greek Orthodox was not split upon religious bounds as most populated areas were but rather lived in an open harmony most unusual for that area. Strange how extreme circumstances are oft inclined to bring about natural measures of compatibility.

Leprosy is a most strange condition in that one can be simply a carrier, in which case the symptoms and effects whilst most unpleasant and unsightly  are not infectious  and the sufferer may survive for some considerable number of years, but in other cases the disease may be highly infectious causing a need for complete isolation, if not ostracization, dramatically infringing on the individuals ability to function and oft  quite quickly leading to the welcome release of  death, no one wishing to quite literally witness themselves drop to pieces.

It was the accepted custom in the surrounding areas for individuals who showed the slightest precursor of a symptom to migrate in dead of night to dwell in the village, to live out the rest of their existence within that like community. Those who proved fortunate enough to avoid the worst abominations the disease can bring, instead being tainted by those least innocuous of the conditions effects were inclined, or perhaps morally compelled to remain within the village acting  as administrators and medics, to nurse, feed and comfort those who would soon enough be departing their number, as opposed to returning to outside society  as self preservation might seem to compel. This was my first real face to face confrontation with the weighty reality of human personal responsibility and duty.

That the individual, without advice or the necessity for outside pressure would for the welfare of family, friends and community remove their person for fear of spreading infection personifies the highest degree of responsibility.  Their willingness, even when the fullness of time suggested a probable capacity for survival, to place themselves even unto death at the service of those who are so far less fortunate, exemplifies duty.

Individual choice, personal freedoms, human rights have become the watchwords of modern society. A constant striving to promote, facilitate and expand the singular in the understanding that this will necessarily improve the plural. Possibilities are pursued as personal quests, crusades set in play for self-improvement, the id mistakenly suspected of being representative of the whole. At some point the newly empowered individual is necessarily going to face the reality of the self-diagnosed leper and either grasp the attending responsibility and duty, otherwise accepting and witnessing the undeniable impending consequences for society as a whole.

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