Common enemy

April 26, 2020

     I discovered the unifying power of a common enemy when I was in college.  I lived in a co-op: Twenty-one girls in a big old house and a married couple who served as our “house parents.” We had a hired cook, and our house parents ordered supplies. But otherwise the girls shared the duties of running the house — dishes, cleaning, serving meals.
              And we fought continuously. We disagreed with the division of duties, complained about the way the bathrooms were cleaned or the way the dishes were stacked. We fought over boys and borrowed clothes, those who hogged the shower or used all the hot water, or played music too loud, or got up too early or stayed up too late.
             One day our house parents called a meeting. Seems the college had decided that the campus didn’t need two co-ops and since our building was smaller and older than the other, the housing board had proposed closing our building at the end of the school year. If we wanted to live in a coop the following year we would have priority for any openings in the remaining building.
             The girls around that table changed instantly. We praised everything about our old house and how it was run. We started working together, coming up with a strategy. We wrote letters, set up an inspection, selected a team to present our case to the board. And we won.
             I remember being amazed at the transformation, how those girls who could be so petty and vindictive were suddenly supportive of each other when we had a common cause.
              I am reminded of that experience now that a pesky little virus is attacking people all over the world. We used to be suspicious of people from other countries and cultures. We looked down on their religion, their government, their language. Now suddenly we see similarities. We’re all wearing masks and washing hands. We all worry about our older citizens. We tear up at the empty streets, applaud when singing echos from balconies, even when we don’t understand the words.
               And we know if we just stick together, we can beat this thing.