The quarantine began in the north of Italy, in Lombardia, where more than 50% of all Italian coronavirus cases exist. In Rome, where I live, there are still less than 500 confirmed cases, but that doesn’t mean residents are not on high alert. Everything is closed except for grocery stores and pharmacies. Restaurants, bars, coffee shops, cinemas, churches, everything is closed down.
In order to leave our homes without risk of a €200 fine, we are required to carry a form stating the purpose of our outing. Once out in public, we are then required to remain at least 1 meter away from all other humans. This social distancing feels cold and harsh in a culture where a kiss on the cheek is the most common greeting.
I’ve been looking out of my windows more often these days. From here I see apartment buildings, balconies covered with greenery and drying laundry, and more people than I’ve observed from this viewpoint before. There are new passing figures in once empty doorways and lights shining in rooms previously believed to be abandoned. Italians are finding time to tidy terraces, tend to their gardens, and even have a leisurely meal in the afternoon sun.
Everyone is a healthy distance from each other. No one can cough on me from 20 meters away.
However, despite these physical restrictions, there is something special that has kept the warmth of the Italian community alive. The mayor of Rome has encouraged people to step outside onto their balconies or open their windows at 18:00 every evening to engage with one another in a melodic way. Depending on what street you’re on, you might hear “Il Canto degli Italiani”, the Italian national anthem, sung with gusto by older women. Or you may feel the beat of electronic dance music as it pulses from the speakers sitting in a student’s window. Or, as it happened for me, the shred of an electric guitar soloing at full volume “Knockin on Heaven’s Door” from an energetic punk rocker and his wife on their balcony.
After the final chord is played and the song comes to an end, people stay where they are. Some halfway out their kitchen window, others huddled with their loved ones on a small balcony. Eyes connect and smiles are exchanged for the first time between neighbors who have lived across the street from each other for years. For the proceeding 15 minutes, conversations are quasi-shouted from one new friend to another.
They compliment each other's decorations, ask questions about their family, and in some places, young adults have been offering to help get groceries for the elderly who are too afraid to leave their homes and risk getting sick. They end their conversations with “A domani!” or “I’ll see you tomorrow!”.
Italy feels more united now than ever. People aren’t focused on fear, isolation, or hoarding unnecessary supplies. The messages shared on social media are of collective pride and productivity. Italians are truly making the most of this situation. The world can learn from this example. Italy has the most cases of Covid-19 in the western world, yet still the resilient spirit of community persists.
I pray that in this time of uncertainty and distress we won’t turn our focus inwardly, even though that is our natural inclination. We were not created to live this life alone. In fact, Galatians 6 encourages us to “bear one another’s burdens” and then says “let us not grow weary of doing good”. There are many people who may feel frightened or isolated, and now is our time to extend a helping hand, a listening ear, or an encouraging word.
Don’t let this time of crisis be wasted.
Look up. Look out. Joy is still to be found.
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