Update from Italy: Bubble Settings

Photo by Paul Schellekens on Unsplash

The news from America marks a contrast from the news here in Italy. After seven weeks of hard lockdown together, as a nation, inside, we are all happy to regain any modicum of movement. Wearing a mask is not a big deal at all here. Some Americans seem to think that wearing a mask is akin to assuming a new sort of health risk; indeed, a cousin in my greater family matrix insisted that wearing a mask in Costco yesterday, somewhere in the American west, gave her a migraine. I wondered if her resentment, anxiety, and misplaced anger might not have contributed to the migraine trigger.

What is your bubble setting? Where are you on the safety bubble spectrum? Will you try to stay cloistered like a Trappist monk in the Swiss Alps, or will you enter shops? Are you somewhere in the middle? Why?

Your ability to remain calm in the coming months has a lot to do with the radius of your bubble. With how many people do you come into daily contact, and what are their relative health thresholds? Or, better put: how well are you aware of their relative health thresholds? Also: how aware are you of the relative health thresholds of strangers with whom you come into contact?

I’ve been told people over 70 should be quarantined until a vaccine is available. I have been given a furtive look by a person who felt I was off my loopy public health rocker. I have been reminded that stores are open and that I am free to shop in them. I have been told I do not care about the economy, that being safe means businesses fail and families starve.

Obviously I am very worried about my older set, whom I know through our palazzo and my network at St. James Episcopal Church. I am thinking of my friends who live with lupus and RA, diabetes, COPD. Stress and anxiety (this should cover about 98% of the global population right now). A friend younger than I who had major heart surgery this year. Initial serological reports from populations that have been in lockdown (I recently came across papers about Florence, London, and NYC) indicate that a smaller percentage than expected is testing seropositive. We’ve got a long way to go.

So, if you can, find that remaining calm corner or your heart, and look kindly upon your family, friends, and strangers. Calm down, if you can, as a part of the global effort to cope with a historic pandemic. Limit your social activity and respect those who are limiting theirs. Wear a mask, for heaven’s sake, if you are coming into contact with someone who is working (a checker, a bus driver, a taxista) because odds are, they would much rather be safe at home if they could. If people seem more cautious, perhaps they are in a vulnerable bubble. Perhaps they have unseen vulnerabilities that are not up for discussion. There is no place for Team America here. It’s perfectly normal to wear a mask, and choosing to not wear one in public makes a breathtakingly selfish choice. Don’t want to wear a mask? Don’t leave home. People don’t have some sort of inalienable right to run around outside without a mask on right now. We’ll get through this phase, but this is what it is right now.

It’s not just your bubble. Everyone is in a bubble. It is not easy. Be generous and imagine what is unseen and difficult for others. Try to take a deep breath and remain calm.

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