“Have we hit the peak yet?” is the question that my kids ask every night at dinner.
“Not yet,” is unfortunately still the answer. Yesterday Italy recorded more deaths in one day than any other. The country’s contagion and mortality graph hasn’t plateaued, or given signs that it’s about to.
We all desperately want to be free of the sense of foreboding, the horrifying feeling of something encroaching. “The worst is yet to come” has hung over us like a pall for the last two weeks. We want to feel like the roller coaster has started its descent, and that recovery – physical, economic, psychological – is on the horizon.
So, like the British during the war huddling around the radio to hear Winston Churchill, we listen to the head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, Angelo Borrelli, announce the daily Coronavirus toll every evening at 6 pm. He tells us in numbers that it’s worse than yesterday. And we assume that tomorrow will be worse than today. In sum, we haven’t “peaked”.
The beginning of the lockdown was not difficult. I was grateful to have concrete measures in place so that I didn’t have to argue with my teens about going out and seeing their friends. The restrictions were unassailable, and that was reassuring: we could not go out and so we wouldn’t. The kids stayed in their rooms. I FaceTimed friends that I haven’t talked to in years.
It was like going back to a simpler world, when there was time for cooking and being with each other. Free from the hustle, I didn’t have to scream at my kids that we were late. I wore elastic-waisted pyjamas at noon, and ragù simmered on the stove. I can do this, I thought. This will be good for all of us. We will slow down, be present, recalibrate our priorities.
I thought it was two weeks.
You see, when you assume it’s a few weeks, you can consider it a break from the daily grind. I thought we would go back to jobs, and socializing, and kids graduating. I thought I could hit the sales at Italian outlets.
Now, with no end in sight and Italian doctors and scientists not sure if these drastic measures will even work, we are in a harder place. Siblings fight over anything and everything. Jobs are being lost. Americans are giving advice about how to “juggle” work and caregiving, and I want them to be grateful for the problem of juggling. Thank God if you are able to work from home. Here, so many people are home, not working.
Marital stress is at an all-time high. In the province of Wuhan, divorce rates soared after the Coronavirus outbreak. For couples, quarantine time is usually not quality time.
But it’s not all grim. There is a sense of community that we have never felt before in Rome: every evening we sing from the balconies. My teens have become aware (for the first time!) of the elderly who live in our building and have written notes to them. My husband gives a cup of coffee every morning to the homeless guy who lives on our piazza. (The nuns make sure he gets fed, we make sure he gets coffee.)
We open the windows and position our chairs just right so that we can feel the heat of the Roman sun on our faces.
We’ve trained our dog to do all sorts of things.
My daughter and I bake, and mess up, and start over again. Because there’s time.
We are practicing radical self-care: taking vitamins, getting exercise, resting when we need to rest. We are grateful for our health in a way we’ve never been before.
There is an expression in Italy : Quando c’è la salute, c’è tutto. When you have your health, you have everything.
Never in any of our lifetimes has this been more true.
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A writer and TV commentator living in Italy, Katherine Wilson is the author of the internationally acclaimed memoir ONLY IN NAPLES (Random House). She has been published in Publisher’s Weekly, the Daily Mail, and the Pool, as well as being featured on BBC Radio 4. Her work has been translated into seven languages. She is a moderator for the United Nations in Rome and Italian television. Follow her at @katherinewilsonwriter