Update from Italy: Things That Caught Me Off Guard

Anyone else feeling a little like this? Not all the time, but for significant stretches?
Lake Michigan in winter. Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Apologies in advance for the pandemic processing post. If you’re overwhelmed today, just skip it.

Things That Caught Me Off Guard: A List

How quickly this slope got so slippery. From smirking, willful denials and late-night dinners, to “we might have a problem,” to tentative measures, to national house arrest for humanity, to obedience, remorse, and nationwide hyperventilation. I felt genuinely nauseated in early March, here in Italy, stricken by the psychological vertigo of failing to adjust at pace with the news.

Remembering that emotional aquifer where dark feelings are stored unseen, lying deep within each of us. Over which we have so little control, where anxiety, depression, frustration, irritation brew and eventually surface, filtering upward over the years through the limestone of life lived.

My frustration at people who were not getting with the program. This is a global crisis. Full stop. Please don’t debate this point. These days were rough sailing.

How much everyone wanted to protect the economy before people. But the economy! Our hammer dropped on Carnevale, February 25, which also happened to be our fourteenth wedding anniversary, and I spent most of it eating a very fancy dinner by myself at a bistro table at Cibléo because Jason was on a two-hour phone call on the sidewalk finalizing their decision to send all the Gonzaga students home the following week. I was ready to up economic sticks and roll up travel tents on February 26. It all quickly became clear to me, my teeth would not stop chattering day in and day out, night after night. I was shocked at the complacency and pushback from people, both in Italy and abroad.

How relieved I was to put an apron on Miss Anxiety and slip into Farmwife mode. Rolling up my shirtsleeves and ready to do this. In retrospect, she saved me. It was not my job to convince anyone of anything. There were honest chores needed doing down on ol’ Quarantine Farm.

The degree to which I feel not just physically isolated – that much was predictable – but emotionally isolated in Italy. I’m no stranger in a strange land; this is my heart home. But Italians, with the exception of the family we actually live with in the palazzo, withdrew into their tribes, and I am in a bell jar looking out through the glass, all those delicate young friendships drooping and dead. I’m not from here.

My kitchen competence and courage are skills I had forgotten about.

How quickly I came to the dry land of acceptance after I sloshed through that initial swamp of fear. This is going to last a long, long time. We all turned a corner in March and we didn’t realize at the time the permanence of these changes.

None of this is normal. (I am okay with this.) We did not all magically shift to Remote Life. (I am okay with this.) We shifted to pandemic response mode. (I am okay with this.)

There will be new tomorrows. That I know. They’re in the pipeline; they’re coming. We are still in the start of the Vesuvian eruption. We are in the middle of the unfolding right now. But now I know this: we don’t know what those new tomorrows will look like. No one knows what the rest of 2020 holds for the planet. I can’t even read predictions anymore in the news. I’m hopeful that we will generate more compassion, justice, and empathy than the human race has ever before mustered in its history.