Applause, applause

Still clapping for those who're fighting the good fight

by Allegra Huston
Posted 6/25/20

Jiāyóu!

That was the shout from the windows of high-rise apartment buildings in Wuhan, China, during the lockdown that started them all. Literally, it means "add oil." In other words, "Gas it up!" Usually it's translated as "Keep up the fight!"

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Applause, applause

Still clapping for those who're fighting the good fight

Posted

Jiāyóu!

That was the shout from the windows of high-rise apartment buildings in Wuhan, China, during the lockdown that started them all. Literally, it means "add oil." In other words, "Gas it up!" Usually it's translated as "Keep up the fight!"

Abbracciame! "Hug me!" That was the song in Naples, as people stood at their open windows or on balconies and roof terraces and sang.

Italy is the land of cafés and the passegiata, for millennia, people have gathered in the piazzas, at the fountains, to talk over the events of the day.

Confined to their apartments, denied social life, Italians found a way to come together with their voices. As ancient folk songs and operatic arias echoed through the courtyards and down the cobbled streets, isolated people found solidarity and comfort and faith that the human community would triumph in the end.

We humans are primates. We're genetically programmed to want to touch and be touched, to pick fleas from one another's fur, to huddle together for warmth, to snuggle up for reassurance. The Italians showed the world how, even when forced to be apart, we could create a virtual group hug simply with sound.

But only Italians can sing like Italians. So the Spanish, and then the British, decided to applaud. The yells of encouragement in China, and the communal spirit of Italy, combined into a new expression: a nationwide wave of appreciation for the health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

March 26 was #ThankYouThursday in the U.K. and Ireland. For the next 10 weeks, at 8 p.m. every Thursday evening, the British Isles erupted as people stood outside their front doors and hung out of windows, clapping, whooping, cheering, banging pots and pans.

Both countries have a National Health Service, so you don't have to pay for medical care; it's your right as a citizen. The service can be creaky, but then, so can your grandmother -- and many people feel that same tender affection for the NHS that you feel for your grandmother. She cannot solve every problem, but she will work her fingers to the bone trying.

On the second Thursday, a friend in Dublin told me that on streets where a lot of nurses lived, the cheering went on for five minutes or more. The nurses leaving home to report for the night shift were in tears, she said, overwhelmed by such an intense outpouring of appreciation.

That day, I decided to try to get Taos clapping. The joke, "Taos gets the clap!" made a good subject line for an email, so people opened it. Three days later, on April 5, a Sunday (Palm Sunday, by coincidence: the beginning of Holy Week), we started. We clapped every night, for one minute, at 8 p.m.

Within a few days, over 200 people in Taos County were clapping, from Carson to Questa, from the foothills to the west rim of the gorge. And maybe beyond! I don't know.

Some of my friends had already been clapping, by FaceTime, with their friends in New York. Others told me they'd had the same thought that I had, when they heard about people clapping in other places: why don't we do that?

All it took was one person to say, "Let's do this." Let's join together and express our gratitude. Even though we're separated by lockdown, we are still a community. We're all in this together, and we want those who are risking their lives to know we appreciate their courage and their dedication.

Dr. Geilan Ismail, a member of the local COVID-19 response team, spread the word at Holy Cross Hospital, and they made it an event on their FaceBook page. Savannah Rodriguez, a nurse on the night shift who was caring for three COVID-19 patients at the time, texted my neighbor to say how much the clapping meant to her.

People were clapping in France, Turkey, India, Peru, Switzerland, Brazil and many other places, too. In the east mountains of Albuquerque, they were howling with the coyotes. A couple of howls started in Taos. It's been two months now, and as I've stood outside my front door clapping for a minute every evening, I've watched 8 p.m. go from night, to twilight, to sunset, to day.

The clapping in most places has stopped now. In Ireland, the surge of the virus seems to be over. In the U.K., the woman who started the weekly round of applause is working to turn it into an annual expression of national appreciation for everyone who works in health care. ("Pop it in your diary now," says the website: March 25, 2021.)

As for me, I will keep clapping every night outside my front door, with my son and my neighbor and perhaps a visiting friend. It's a prayer, and a meditation, an expression of gratitude.

It's a way of consciously sending my encouragement out, from this sheltered valley where I'm so lucky to live, to everyone who's fighting the good fight. I'm clapping for the health care workers, but I'm also clapping for the protesters, for those lawmakers and public servants who are standing up for justice.

I'm clapping for everyone who is risking their lives to make our country, and our world, a healthier, fairer place.

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