A humble holiday light display to chase away the darkness of COVID-19. by Kate Dolan Mount Airy residents may begin to see a sight more typical of the holiday season as they take solo walks in the …
by Kate Dolan
Mount Airy residents may begin to see a sight more typical of the holiday season as they take solo walks in the neighborhood.
On March 22, East Mount Airy resident Mohamed Latib wrote a post on the neighborhood social networking site, Nextdoor, informing neighbors of a small gesture he was to begin that night in response to the COVID-19 health crisis and social distancing measures. He asked neighbors to join.
“I have decided to turn on my modest lights from Xmas. No, it's not Xmas - but I am doing it to smile and share my heart with all who drive by,” reads the post. “Join me in turning your lights on to smile and tell all our neighbors that we are in this together.”
Since writing the post, Latib received well over 100 responses from area residents, many who planned to turn on their lights. In a phone call with Latib, he spoke about his experience staying home and what spurred the idea.
“Think about the conditions we are faced with right now,” he said. “Everyone is at home. We have two common threads: One is our preoccupation with the coronavirus, and the second is the emotion of fear.”
Since Monday, March 22, Philadelphians have been instructed to stay at home to practice social distancing, many ordering groceries online and working from home as only essential businesses stay open.
“We can’t engage in the closeness we are accustomed to, so we maintain appropriate social distance but we are not distant, through the smile, we are able to share our solidarity,” Latib said.
Latib has made it a habit to smile at strangers he walks by in the street, well before COVID-19 and now during the pandemic. He is continuously fascinated by what the simple gesture creates between people. He views the light as a way to share that smile.
“I can’t do this with the whole world, but I thought the symbolism here would be a light, not unlike what we do at christmas time,” he said. “Turn on a light, a modest christmas light, or a candle light; turn on a light that is different then your normal night light, as a way of saying to the world, we’re smiling and we’re sharing our heart doing so.”
The thread on Next Door has galvanized neighbors, many expressing gratitude and their commitment to follow suit. East Mount Airy resident Angela Kreider has put her Christmas lights up.
“It’s been a few nights now that I have been turning on my Christmas lights,” said Kreider. “I leave them on till bedtime, hoping that those out for a late evening walk or those driving by see them."
NextDoor is one example of how social media is coming to the rescue in a way as people in isolation seek company. Many are drinking wine in the blue glow of a Zoom virtual happy hour. Teachers are Facetiming with students. Yoga classes are being instructed virtually. But a large portion of Philadelphia’s population do not have access to technology and the means to stay connected virtually. Latib hopes that the lights at night will catch on in many neighborhoods, benefiting everyone who walks by.
“They will visually experience commonality,” Latib said.
S cott O’Brien of Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy also joined Latib.
“ I'm glad my laziness paid off,” O’Brien commented. “I didn't take my lights down yet. I turned t hem on tonight for the first time in weeks. :) Great idea.”
Latib didn’t have to put his lights back up either.
“I had a very modest Christmas light. I unplugged it,” he said of the end of the holiday season. “I didn’t have to take out the lights, It was there. I just plugged it in.”