Perspectives of a Canadian living abroad in the midst of pandemic COVID-19
“We are your future.” That’s what my colleagues in Hong Kong would tell me as I asked them what it was like to live in Lockdown during the Chinese New Year, January 2020. Up until then, my life in a small town near Venice was still normal: Kids and school, work and home, groceries and shopping. I was planning birthday parties, Carnivale, and friendly get togethers at the time. I didn’t really believe it. I mean, China is so far away. And we managed SARS in Canada only more than a decade ago, so how bad could it really be here in Venice? This is Europe. Not Asia. Our population is not China’s. It won’t be as bad as the media reports would have us believe.
I remember a lunchtime walk through the vineyards near my school one afternoon in mid- February. I was reflecting with my colleague: “Do you think you can open the windows in lockdown?” “What must that be like?” Thinking about our colleagues dear to us who had just recently begun teaching near Shanghai and Foshan, China. No one could possibly explain what it could be really like. Much like childbirth. You don’t know how it affects you until it happens to you.
And it did. Suddenly. From looking forward to festive masquerades with streamers and tightly- packed people on narrow, windy, medieval streets, to being fined if 200 meters more from your own home, practically in your own backyard. Just like that. Your freedom gone. War. War on the virus. How to explain it to your young and vibrant children? How to carry on being “normal” when nothing about this was normal at all.
Here we are, facing down 8 weeks of Lockdown. Our busy main-street, usually bustling with transport trucks, motorcycles, cars and people is barely travelled, and with those few who visit, comes to a standstill at precisely 8p.m. Outside, the sounds of birds, and sirens. Sends chills up my spine. I only hope it is no one I know, or WHO knows. “We are your future” calls back to me.
If I think about how my Italian lifestyle has changed since COVID-19 came to our small Venetian town, I would say a lot. My daily ritual of espresso at the coffee bar, a round to the bakery for fresh morning bread, or Sunday walks through the historic town centre to join the many community events are gone.
COVID-19 marks our Spring. Our New Life means new routine: masks and gloves. And the local people? Always willing to lend smile, a small conversation? A handshake? They are still here, a little less so, more reserved, unsure but not unwilling if you look deeply and stop, even at one meter. We are a resilient and compassionate people. We can not help ourselves in our greeting, our smiles behind the masks. It tells us that we are a community. WE will overcome. It will be O.K.
Tutto andra` bene. Everything will be o.k. Banners hung from balconies, songs sung in time and in tune as a sign of community. And this is where mindfulness and compassion for others comes to play. Where I take a minute to stop and stare outside my open window. To breathe the fresh air, to sing, dance and run outside in my balcony, in my courtyard with my children. Chasing balls, cycling bikes. “It’ll be o.k.” I say.
“We are your future.” Digital savvy has become the new norm in our small town, as we Zoom, Skype or Hangout. These platforms, our piazzas. COVID-19 will not stop OUR way. A new way, albeit, of reflecting on who we are, what we are becoming, and what we will be in the aftermath of this war on this unseen virus.
Thankfully, my place of work, a primary international school, serves us a daily dose of “Zoom meditation”. We can log in and join our educational psychologist to release some pressure off our smart working classrooms and managing our real-life families. What will this make us? WE reflect. Compassion is the word that comes to mind. Strong. Bonded by events not imagined in our time, in our town, our family, or to US.
Like out of a movie. But the mindfulness keeps us grounded. Especially at night as we tuck into bed. And think about who we will connect with, what we need to do to keep up with our learning and our way of being: stronger in spirit, united as one community.
COVID-19 we will overcome you. We will befriend you with our physical distance, our scientific breakthroughs. We will come to know you and what you bring to us, one mindful,compassionate moment at a time. “We are your future.”
A small-town near Venice, Italy