Update from Italy: Holy Saturday

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

I have always respected time set aside to consider invisible things. For diverse reasons, when I was a child the language and imagery of faith was inaccessible to me, apart from children’s literature (Lewis and L’Engle) and my own native animism that featured earnest petitions over ad hoc forest altars. When I was an older child early high school, I discovered Jung and Campbell. What I lost in infant surety, I gained in systemic understanding: a gift given that I have nurtured since university days. I am grateful for centuries of wisdom of human psychology handed down through generations. My concept of faith has always been inscribed within the framework of myth, tradition, and cultural wisdom.

And so today is the time set aside for the consideration of hopelessness and crisis, disaster and catastrophe, the worst-case scenario come to pass. How, even as three isolated women sat in the sun and wept, hope was quietly laid behind a boulder in a cave. Hope was written into the script. Much was lost, but more was to be gained.

We’re well into the second month of the Italian quarantine. Last night the Italian PM, Giuseppe Conte, gave a presser to announce the tentative, gentle reawakening to daily life. It won’t look as it did before. These are baby steps. Starting April 14, stores that sell book, or children’s clothes, can open, as can optometrists, and merchants of fragrance (so Italian). Stationers will be allowed to resume business. Here’s the full list, in Italian, which also includes all the businesses that have been operating in the total lockdown. There will be no casual public access, however. Every activity not on the list will remain as is until at least May 3, after the huge public holidays here of April 25 and May 1. This means bars, cafés, restaurants, and parks will be shuttered, along with all other retail not specifically mentioned; salons, gyms, and any business that requires close personal contact must remain closed, along with nonprofits like churches. This news comes as Italy has had a second-day increase in reported infections, since they rolled out even broader testing in the past few days – something like 100,000 tests since midweek. If infections spike after April 14, they might draw down measures, or enforce testing and isolation to anyone symptomatic or whose name appears on a trace list. I think this is our new reality until summer 2021.

We are holding up alright. The children have adjusted more or less well to the new reality. Victor is much more willing to do his classwork, even if Italy struggles to launch road scholastic use of platforms like Google Classroom or Zoom. Victor’s first class featured everyone on camera and open mic for an hour. You can imagine how well this worked. I advised him to turn off his mic and camera. People who are unused to tech think these private products are like magic with unlimited bandwith and scale capacity. Invisible Victor was soon moaning from his armchair. “This meeting is hell,” he WhatsApped me from his phone to where I sat 15 feet away. “Don’t you dare mute the audio, Vic!” I yelled. “You get absolutely no credit for attending this class meeting if you mute the audio.” His eyes started to turn red and his lip trembled. “I’m sorry, Victor,” I said, softening. “Now you know what mommy and daddy are doing when we are working on our laptops. Get used to it; this might be your job in twenty years.” “Ugh!” he yelled. “I hate this!”

Jason and I have struggled with some itchy anxiety late this week. It’s a lot to be inside, even as I continue to find and name new sunny corners in our apartment. A friend in Chicago sent me this useful new work:

Futless (Hawaiian Pidgin English Definition) – (futliss) Definition: antsy; restless; frustrated
Pidgin: We go already. Daniel stay all futless already.
English: Let’s get out of here already. I think Daniel is getting pretty restless.

I’ve had a weird anxiety headache on the left side of my head for weeks, where the methodical left brain has been taxed as its routines are erased and replaced by fuzzy survival skills. The left side of my cheek is raw and chewed; this probably also happens at night, when stress rises to the top. At-home yoga resulted counterproductive in addressing lower backache that comes from being inside 23 hours a day. The trampoline workouts were too much; perhaps they might be modified for daily exertion. Jason and Victor both get rabbity eyes when they fill with worry, and they look like stressed Easter bunnies. My nights are filled with bizarre and disjointed dreams I am unable to shake off come daylight.

We did get to spend a couple hours in the back garden yesterday, which was magnificent, filled with sun and blooming gardenias and potted lemon trees. But we cannot take outdoor walks. We cannot go anywhere other than the short list: grocery store, pharmacy. The hospital, as needed. The police are constantly in piazza, monitoring and reprimanding; I hear them shouting on their bullhorns from our apartment. The medical face masks the city council recently distributed, while necessary, are far from comfortable, and must be worn in public. On Friday night we all gathered at the window to watch a black drone buzz over our roof. I thought it might be a private drone getting prized footage of an empty city. No way, said Jason. That’s a police drone. It hummed and whizzed, zooming in, panning out. Some random guy who lives two buildings over was on his rooftop terrazza, shirtless and wearing Oakleys. Look at that naked man! Eleanor screamed. He’s only shirtless, I said, then saw that the wall hit him at about waist level, so perhaps he was naked. I did not point this out to Eleanor. Good for him. It was a sunny evening.

So back to the mythology of those three women sitting by the rock, wondering what was going on in the cave. What can we learn from them, by watching them?

They thought all was lost. And in a way, it was. But in another important way, hope returned, and it was mind-bending. People just could not wrap their minds around it, because Hope required that they give up so much. Everything, really. People kept trying to script Hope the way they thought that Hope should read, because they wanted everything they already had plus for everything to get even better and more advantageous for them as people. But invisible Hope had other plans. That’s not how Hope works, and it is not how a seismic shift works. I feel that is where we all are right now in the pandemic. It is so tempting to script Hope. In reality all we can do is wait and trust, and support one another.

Wishing everyone a contemplative Holy Saturday. May you find time to consider the unseen, and may it reveal its rich gifts to you.