Our Only Duty

February 10, 2021

He wasn’t out of the woods yet, but that didn’t keep him from seeing the forest for the trees. Low Entropy Volunteer Writer Salem Ziani takes us back a year to Bosnia-Herzegovina with a series of vignettes from a trying time and a difficult place, right on the cusp of the COVID-19 outbreak.

March 2020, somewhere in the heart of a forest in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We’re getting ready to cross the last border and finally reach the European Union, and realize a kind of dream. The wait is too long. Despite a somewhat familiar atmosphere – reminds me of home – my chest is tight; I am overcome with fear. 3:26 a.m. The smuggler arrives and tells us that no one is going to cross today. Maybe never. “Beginning of the lockdown,” he said.

Everything had tipped over: courage and hope left me, and fear immediately took hold of my whole body. From now on, the only concern was surviving.


The city takes on an air of war. Finding myself in the middle and with nowhere to go, I feel jealous of those people who have homes and families during this lockdown, and a little upset with those who complain about nothing.

Confused between memories and regrets, I remember all the beautiful things that I left. I regret most terribly my ingratitude for the joys I once had. It’s a lesson to love what you have, so that you’re not left loving something already lost.


This same city that was once friendly and full of good atmosphere is now apocalyptic; I find myself surrounded by fear and angst.

It is under a bridge that we found a makeshift shelter with some homeless people. We share our food, received from humanitarian associations, and we discuss the pandemic and the tragedies of life to become familiar with each other.

Another lesson learned here, of humanism: help your neighbours.

“No man is tired of receiving what is useful. But it is useful to act according to nature. Do not then be tired of receiving what is useful by doing it to others.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (translated by George Long)


Unpleasant news about us was circulating, so we were forced to leave the city and go to a small village where we were hosted by a monk who told us, “It doesn’t matter who you are, God does not abandon anybody.”

Fifth day, we are awakened by our friend’s screams. The pandemic has just taken the life of his mother. Is there anything more painful than attending your mother’s funeral and saying your last goodbye by video call? We were all scared and extremely sad. We all cried.

The lesson is compassion.

“Now, when you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. Through accustoming your mind to this sense of universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems. Nor is this wish selective; it applies equally to all.”

– Tenzin Gyatso; The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, “Compassion and the Individual”


All discussion revolves around the pandemic: when will it end? When will the lockdown end? Are we going to get back to normal life? Undoubtedly, there are people who have other questions – people who face the pandemic on the front line, people who have lost loved ones, who have lost their businesses or their jobs. Mine were, “Will I survive? Will I ever go home and see my family again?” All of this had dragged me into a depression.

COVID-19 has brought us all to our knees; we have all been confronted with fear, anger and anxiety.

But we must have the wisdom to get the best out of it all. We must know that, no matter our situation, there is always worse. Our only duty is gratitude and, above all, patience. That’s what helped me find the will to overcome this ordeal.

With time, empathy and patience, we can overcome everything. Everyone will learn from this uncommon period in our lives. 

Will this situation bring us to a better world, full of love, compassion and mutual aid or, per contra, a world worse than the existing one, full of individualism, greed and hatred? From my side, I am optimistic that the human being is able to accomplish wonderful things, as he has demonstrated time and time again. The glow of light is approaching, and each of us will find their right path toward dreams and hope.

Tell us your stories of when you found your strength. Leave a memory in the comments section, or let us know in person at a Low Entropy meet up.

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