By Joanna Kohorst
Catholic News Service
ROME (CNS) — I was video chatting with my childhood friend yesterday. We haven’t talked in almost a year and we were organizing a virtual happy hour with our high school friends.
Why hadn’t we thought about doing this before? I told my friend we had to organize this now because I have sage advice to give about my friends’ futures.
Right now, living in Italy means living at least one week and five hours ahead of people in the United States. (Central European Time is five hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.)
March 23 marked the beginning of the third week of my family’s self-isolation at home in line with the Italian government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As an American living across the ocean from my family back home, I am well-versed in how to keep up a virtual social life, and with two small children, it is rare that I get out to enjoy Rome’s wonderful restaurant and night scene.
That has helped make this massive transition less overwhelming, but it does not make what is happening OK.
What is happening feels dystopian. Rome feels like August when the city empties out and everyone goes on vacation, but right now no one in the world is on vacation.
Rome is silent, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and there are bees on the flowers on my balcony, but our hearts are not calm.
In the beginning, when the situation was rapidly changing, we would refresh the news almost every minute, feverishly trying to understand what was happening. Friends, family, colleagues and parents were texting constantly, our eyes barely left our phones. How were we going to make this work? Are we overreacting? Are we doing enough? Are we safe?
Living one week and five hours ahead of those I love in America, I am sounding the alarms. This is real. Please take it seriously. Don’t panic but be smart. Wash your hands. Be safe. Ask for help. Help others.
Italy is entering its third week of mandatory home isolation with only essential stores open throughout the country. We are blessed to be able to telework with small kids underfoot. We plan virtual playdates and birthday parties, dance and discipline, bake (homemade pizza and pasta) and wait in line for the grocery store, massage cracked dry hands, wear gloves and masks, and keep our distances, watch things break (currently our kitchen sink) and fix things.
At times we are afraid and tell macabre jokes. We pray and wish on stars, cry and regroup. We put down our phones for a mental break and try not to obsessively check the news, only to hit refresh one more time. We have two weeks of successfully making it work because what else are you going to do? You figure this out one day at a time.
The world is stopping, trying to save our most vulnerable. Your plans are canceled. Our grandparents, cancer survivors, the immunocompromised and now our front-line responders are getting sick and dying. Our doctors and nurses, pharmacy, grocery store and delivery workers are at the front lines of this fight desperately trying to save lives and keep our society from collapsing.
What can we do? How can we help? For most of us who do not provide essential services, the answer is: STAY HOME.
Are we overreacting? Are we doing enough? Are we safe? I don’t know.
I do know, however, that I am being blessed with the privilege of time: Time to watch my kids grow and play. Time to check in with family. Time to help my neighbors. Time to flatten the curve. The whole world needs time.
My friends and I are finally organizing a virtual happy hour because, for once, our busy schedules have been abruptly cleared. We realized that this precious time is important to share with those we love.
– – –
Joanna Kohorst is the administrative assistant of the CNS Rome Bureau.