After a very sunny week, the weekend is rainy. Well, the good aspect of being shut at home is that you don’t care if it rains on Saturday and Sunday. Italy is living its worst moment since WW2, but optimism, a sense of humour and solidarity are not waning.
I wish first and foremost to say that I’m proud to live in a country which faces immense sacrifices in order to protect its weakest people, instead of simply not caring for them in a 2.0 version of the jungle law, the mere survival of the fittest.
The roads are really empty, as far as we can see by looking down from our windows or watching the news; people are acting very responsibly, and nobody is in sight except one or two people with their shopping bags full of food. (By the way, we’ve noticed that when you’re confined at home you start focusing very much on meals: what are we going to eat for lunch? Still two hours to go… hmmm).
And the caution is really necessary. Our hospitals are full, our doctors and nurses are working with impossible rhythms, and they still manage to do it. They put their lives and hearts in what they’re doing because they see how people with COVID die. They die alone, without their relatives; they aren’t in a comatose sleep, but watchful, and frightened. And they won’t have a funeral, because ceremonies of all kinds are forbidden. There is an immensely sad line of hearses waiting to enter the cemetery of Bergamo.
People are staying at home; children are taught online, with all the limitations that this implies, but they’re still studying and “seeing”, at least virtually, their mates. At noon, yesterday, many of us opened our windows and started a long applause for our “heroes”, doctors and nurses.
Though it initially seemed a slightly silly thing to do, in fact it felt like a liberation. It was beautiful to see the our neighbours on the other side of the road (those neighbours we normally see without caring very much for them), to wave our arms as if they were somebody we cared very much for. National flags are starting to appear on the balconies; at 6pm, many people open their windows again and sing the national anthem. Yes, it’s hard, but we’re fighting this together, and we need courage.
Naturally, we aren’t receiving much encouragement and support at the moment, beyond the empty words. The cool words of the European Central Bank president last Thursday have caused a terrible financial crash, which has further affected many of us: we all are experiencing major or minor financial loss in this time, but to plunge a whole country into meltdown was simply irresponsible.
Many of the other European countries are not helping us either, thinking that we’re exaggerating the problem and that it’s “just a new kind of flu”. It is not. It is much, much worse.
So, writing for a global webzine such as MercatorNet, I would like to send an appeal to the countries which are not yet so seriously affected: please start observing some important rules even if your rulers don’t tell you to. Wash your hands very frequently, don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth, and, if possible, try to avoid large gatherings, and, possibly, shaking hands or hugging people. We know it’s hard, but unless the world stops COVID the situation will get very worrying indeed.
Today is a Sunday; there no Masses throughout Italy, and I believe that this has never happened in history. We’ll pray, however.
These days a hashtag is circulating, “#andràtuttobene”, “all will be well”. Yes, it’s a nice, encouraging and comforting thing to say, but it’s false. Nearly 1,500 people have already died in Italy. For them, it has not gone well, neither has it for their families. We need to pray, to fight, to discipline ourselves.
And also to sing from our balconies, to send kisses to our neighbours, waiting for the day when our choirs will start rehearsing again, our families will hug once more.
Dr Chiara Bertoglio is a musician and theologian moonlighting as a journalist. She writes from Italy. Visit her website.