Update from Italy: Talking about Reopening

Oh for a walk outside in the fresh air. When it becomes possible, I am going to walk the 6.2k to Fiesole on the footpaths from our palazzo, and I am taking Vic with me and I do not care if he whines. If you’re ever on a layover in Zurich, check out the walks close by. Photo by Azzedine Rouichi on Unsplash

Italy has been in lockdown now for about a month and a half, ever since nationwide decrees were put in place prohibiting unnecessary trips of any kind outside the home.

We accepted mascherine (face masks) and certificazioni to be outside. We gave up fresh air, sunlight, seeing friends around and about. Our daily circuits of home, cappuccino, work, school, grocery shopping, vanished with no more trace than our memory of them. But we remembered them – with some disbelief, were we ever that free?

We watched the news with a concern that bordered on panic. We received updates with grieving friends. Many of us know people have paid the price not just with a temporary loss of freedom – people whose lives have been deeply impacted by Covid-19, and who have lost income, livelihood, friends and family members to the virus. These have not been easy times, for anyone. It is right to recognize and name all these losses, large and small, and to hold in the light those who are suffering. You may have noticed your relationships became strained, as baseline stress made it difficult for many to hear words kinds or to speak free from the filter of panic.

Spring quietly crept up on us while many of us watched from our windows. And what we all gave up, these weeks of freedom, has saved lives. Of that there is little doubt. Nature held the line for us as she leafed and bloomed, just as she always does. The planet tilted back into the sun, on its annual revolution, turning the season from winter to spring. We witnessed the resurrection of life on the planet as we remained in lockdown. Even as we were not free to stretch and breathe, Nature stretched her limbs and took a deep breath for us.

Hope seems to be hovering around May 4. In about ten days, we hope to be able to go outside, to breathe fresh air, to see the hills around Florence. We might sit on a bench in the park in the sun. This is likely all going to feel very strange at first. Even with our mascherine firmly on our faces, we might feel like we are being newly born into a world we thought we knew. Be gentle with yourself and tender as you emerge. The abruptness with which we were all thrust into these weeks of fear and privation requires extra care as we come out of it. In the coming months, continue to look after those who are older, those who are weaker, those with small children. Remember that we have been living in a state of grace in these weeks.

An ambitious Italian timeline has been circulating on social media today. How Italy might open up again by stages, from now until the fall months. This is optimistic, but also kind of shocking to me. A full reopening by the fall? Do they know something they’re not telling? A vaccine is on its way? Less than 95% of the population remains susceptible? An effective, affordable, available treatment? In the absence of those options, this timeline seems fevered at best. I get that people are tired of being at home. I am tired of being at home. We are all tired of being at home. But what would be worse by far would be slipping back to where we were in early March with an uncontained outbreak spreading by the hour.

Jason and I were talking about May 4 yesterday. Obviously the new decree would permit movement, not require it. “Would you change what you’re doing?” he asked. “What would you do different?” I had to admit that no, I would probably not do anything different. I might go for a walk each day, if the polizia chill after May 4. But I will be working from home, the kids’ schools are closed for the rest of the year. Here in Italy we are watching schools open in other EU member states. Why aren’t our schools opening in Italy?

I posit that it has a lot to do with the childcare structure in Italy. Grandparents in Italy do a lot of heavy lifting in the afternoon with their grandchildren while parents are at work. I think this may be less the case in other EU countries. So if Italian schools reopen, they are going to have to rethink the unsynchronized schedules of school versus work. Workdays are going to have to be shorter so that parents and school-aged children are on the same page, keeping grandparents out of the regular equation, and safe at home. The gap between lunch and 5 or 6 is a global issue for childcare.

With respect to what we are learning about C19, this Atlantic Monthly article makes some excellent points, for people who like a healthy dose of science with their news. First, we are still learning about the novel coronavirus. It’s new! So we’re learning about it. Second, there seems to be an immune-system component to the clinical course of C19. We just don’t know who is going to blow up a cytokine storm. Thirdly, and this is what I have been gnawing on today, there are plenty of viruses for which we do not have vaccines. Take, for example, the common cold, whose mutations are so clever that it bounds, in all its iterations, just out of reach, and so we all suffer through whatever version we caught that our immune system in particular was unable to vanquish in the game of microscopic Whack-a-Mole (TM).

I read a lot of science-heavy news, pieces by experts like Dr. Brilliant (best name ever for a non-fictitious character in this line of work), and I hear him reassuring that we will find a vaccine for this, but what if we don’t, or not anytime soon? What if it hops in front of us, taunting us, for a few years to come? What is certain is that there is no magic lever to magically shift us all back to 2019 and pre-C19. This is the reality we got, guys. We do not know what the future holds. The virus holds secrets that we are just very slowly unraveling and beginning to understand. I feel humbled in the face of science and nature. We just don’t know. I am not even going to talk about stealing prescription meds from people with lupus and RA, injecting bleach, or beaming light … somehow … into certain parts of your… body.

We are on just one point of the fullness of time, in all its magnificent splendor. If you are in Italy, may you move into our slowly expanding and renewing freedom, and tenderness toward everyone in your world. 

This post has been adapted from a piece that was published today in the eNews of St. James Episcopal Church, Florence, Italy.