Following from Chapter I
Brindisi, March 21, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic had, as a consequence, an entire nation’s lockdown and many other nations around were following on the same road. Two weeks had already passed.
In Italy, I was watching the developments from some sort of vantage point. We were 10 or even more days ahead of many other countries, already used (resigned?) to the contagion and the “extraordinary measures” going with it. We experimented as the second (after the Chinese people) the effect of this strange “staying at home”.
In those first two weeks, I had seen the good and the bad surfacing in my compatriot captive fellows.
The good was the raise in collective identity.
Italians are great individuals, but I wouldn’t define them as great as people. Yes, for us the family is important, but not so much the community: the town, the country, the others. The sense of the state, the perception of common goods, the respect for what is public are quite scarce.
Pictures and videos of the Italian “balcony flashmobs”, with people singing and clapping together, traveled around the world. People kept each other cheerful, raising the spirit to make up for the lack of social contact.
Facebook, Messenger, Whatsapp conversations were more lively than ever and zoom meetings for work, but also for a chat, a toast, a love conversation, was the new normal. The social dimension never disappeared, not a little bit.
Well, without touch. Missing hugs and kisses was a way to realize how important they previously were in our daily lives.
Doctors and nurses were doing miracles, working relentlessly, with poor safety measures, arousing our admiration. All the people working in the food supply chain couldn’t stop as well. Volunteers provided shopping for the old people at home and tissue facial masks were sewed and gifted in several towns and neighborhoods.
But let’s talk about the bad.
First of all, it was surprising how fast we all accepted that social distancing was the only solution. I wonder if there was some alternative way to protect the weaker with exceptional measures, even at the same high price. As for most of the others, I suppose for me the risk was a viral infection with mild symptoms. Maybe we could cope with it, without putting at risk an entire economic system made of local shops and little enterprises.
As in a revolution, there was no time or desire to discuss alternatives. The only “political” debate was if the government was doing enough, had intervened soon enough or could restrict freedoms even more.
The big doctors on TV appeared to be the only legitimate authorities to discuss measures despite the fact that they had – at least – to be balanced with fundamental rights and freedoms. I couldn’t help but think that freedom of worship or the right to mourn the dead could be saved somehow – maybe moving them open-air, with due distances. But that wasn’t debatable.
What was much worse, people locked in the houses started judging the few ones moving freely outside: a few runners, people driving cars and riding bikes. For sure, some had good reasons to move (with the special permission we all had in the pocket, when outside) some others were just less obedient. Regrettable of course, but not at the point to be hated. Pointing the finger was easy and lightheartedly done.
And such hatred was real, a sort of decompression for the sense of frustration for being prisoners of the invisible enemy. Overreacting, looking for the responsible for bringing the contagion in town, blaming the authorities for not protecting enough, that was the shadow surfacing in many good citizens at home.
All in plain sight: the light and the shadow, and the boat we were all in.
I felt I couldn’t go on with business as usual.
In my cozy house – luckily prisoner with my two sons – I was doing my best to stay positive, shielding my boys from the wave of fear and anxiety I could perceive from the outside.
After years and years of frantic activity, staying at home wasn’t too bad.
Yet, from time to time I couldn’t help but think of the sick ones, the seriously sick: those condemned to stay in the hospital without the presence and the comforting touch of the dear ones. Dying alone, this was the curse of this virus.
My work didn’t stop, even if I was confined at home.
I could teach online, correct theses, advise students, write…
Well, most of my work had always been at home: reading, studying, writing. Especially – and on purpose – in the quiet hours when the boys were at school.
I was used to struggling with the blank page on my personal computer and now I had plenty of time to do so. I couldn’t even complain about all the other chores.
Yet, motivation was totally missing. All of a sudden I was wondering if all my work made sense at all.
I had always seen my life as a continuous upgrading and now – I felt – it was time to upgrade again.
Unfortunately, I was clueless. Waiting for a hint about the next step, out of my old patterns and towards some new, more significant ones…
I had the impression this virus was a sort of wake-up call, not just for me, but for everybody. I felt, deep inside, the responsibility to get the hidden message inside the call.
Sleeping, reading novels, cooking was all I wanted to do in those lazy days of quarantine. All I had never had time to do. I was overwhelmed, at times, with a sense of guilt for this sudden laziness, something I was unprepared to face.
A sudden thought: – maybe this is how searching for the meaning of life looks like: waiting and contemplation. Maybe the white page is where it all starts and where I had to start. Seeing what could flow out of my mind. No plans, no goals, no attachments. Just the free flow of thoughts. Inspiration? Intuition? It was time to see if these were real, if they worked.
And there it was: my “Oneness” posts 🙂
Compassion. A sense of commonality with all the people living the same life and the same fears in so many towns and countries around the world.
Contribute. Could I contribute? How?
The challenge to me was clear: the virus showing once more how this world is small, how humanity is nothing but a family whose destiny lays in interconnectedness.
We had already seen plenty of images of catastrophes around the world in this strange leap year: desperation, bombs, locusts, floods, and fires. Powerful images calling for our empathy and compassion for our fellow humans, the close and the far away.
Yet this lockdown because of an infinitely small virus – apparently not so terrible – was something different: a shared experience.
It was connecting for the first time people around the world, sharing the same fear. Could this become a sharing of love instead? I was wondering. Could we pray for each other, meditate for each other, feel eventually a real, family-like, connection?
The light at the end of the tunnel could be brighter than the one we left behind, at least because we learned to enjoy it with new eyes.
Follows in chapter three