Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
The past week has been a whirlwind. The University of Maryland has sent students home for the rest of the semester. Many of us, including myself, haven’t really left our homes during what is supposed to be our spring break. Many of us are afraid, and many of us are angry. I’m sure, like me, you are wondering how we’re gonna make it through the rest of this pandemic — however long it will last.
Personally, I’ve struggled to reconcile what is happening here with what is happening to my family and friends in Italy — a country that recently reported a higher COVID-19 death toll than China. All I picture whenever I think of Italy is rows of military trucks solemnly rolling out of the northern city of Bergamo, carrying the coffins of those killed by COVID-19 who won’t even get a funeral because funeral gatherings are banned. As you can imagine, reading any news coming out of Italy makes my blood freeze, so I’m currently trying to find better ways to pass the bulk of this quarantine. In order to do this, I figured I’d consult the quarantine professionals — my friends and family under lockdown in Italy — to gather some suggestions for how to take this time on.
Most of my family members live just outside of Florence, and the vast majority of them are employed in the tourism and hospitality industries. This means that most (if not all) of them will likely be unemployed when this is over. But despite the prospect of being out of work, my family members have made efforts to achieve some sense of routine and normalcy as the streets of their town become empty of signs of life.
My aunt noted the importance of re-discovering family life if possible, and how she passes the time cleaning, playing board games, exercising and watching movies with her kids. She told me about skyping friends to have dinner together remotely, and of how my youngest cousin recently skyped his best friend from school to play “Battleship.”
She also explained how unified Italy has been, highlighting the importance of finding community even when everyone is legally forced to be apart. In group chats and on social media, Italians across the country challenge each other to draw posters with the hashtag “Andrà tutto bene” (Everything will be ok) and to publish them on social media or send them to other loved ones. I’m sure many of you have seen this by now, but Italians are also coming together to have neighborhood concerts on their balconies — to fight the boredom and the fear and the eerie silence that the lockdown has brought. Finding community with others, especially strangers, is direly needed to combat the “Everyone for themselves” mentality we see projected across the nation in this time.
As my aunt says: “It’s all new. It’s all surreal, but we have the fortune of being Italian. So even in our discomfort, we are still positive. We keep joking, we keep going forward, even if we are stuck at home or forced to line up six feet apart at the grocery store or at the pharmacy. We are all doing it in the hope that the economy recovers and that we’ll start over. If they ask of us the sacrifice of staying home, we will do it.”
Building unity while we are apart is certainly a quarantine activity worth attempting.
My friend Cecilia, a university student in Milan, agrees that building community can help fight loneliness. She’s been quarantined over a month, since Lombardy is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy. She also emphasizes the importance of going outside if you have your own space, baking if you have the supplies, and reading books you’ve been putting off for a while. For her, fighting the anxiety that comes with the outbreak and not knowing when life will return to normal is paramount. She recommends limiting news consumption and journaling even the smallest things of your day-to-day to fight the stress that comes with the days blending in with each other, with no idea of when life will return to normal.
No one knows when this nightmare will end, and we’re only really on week two of quarantine. While our isolation is not (yet) legally imposed, finding ways to build community and live mindfully is something we can learn from my family and friends in Italy. After all, the only way we can collectively overcome this is by finding strength in ourselves and lending it to one another.
Caterina Ieronimo is a sophomore government and politics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.