- Michael Thompson
“What else has to happen in Italy for Spain to close everything down? Have they not learned anything from us?”
This past Friday, March 13th, on my way home from running one last errand in Barcelona, I received the message above from a friend in Rome. My stomach dropped.
Due to the spike in coronavirus cases in Spain, schools were already closed and my children were home with my wife. By the time I reached our apartment, an hour later, I was greeted with the news that effective Monday, the four of us, along with the rest of the population, would be spending at least the next two weeks in lock-down.
While our young boys, aged 5 and 2, gathered all of their stuffed animals together in our family room to build an ark, my wife and I talked in the kitchen about the once looming, now pressing developments.
Would we be able to help my wife’s elderly parents if they fell ill? Would our kids get a chance to play outside? It was all unclear. Madrid, the city with the highest number of coronavirus cases, was in lock-down already. But according to reports, people were still in the streets and some of them were irresponsible enough to leave the city to go to less impacted areas despite government warnings.
For the preceding week, my wife and I had already begun to distance ourselves from other people, but I secretly wished that I could at least get outside each day for a run.
These thoughts, however, were quickly squashed: Saturday morning, we woke up to the news that we would only be able to leave the house for food, medical attention, and oddly enough cigarettes. Not only that, but the lock-down would go into effect a day early as Spain had been announced as the new epicenter of the coronavirus in Europe.
It’s a strange feeling — standing on my terrace, on what appears to be just another spring Mediterranean day — knowing that within a few hours we would be in the middle of a global pandemic.
After my thoughts slowed, my wife and I dressed our kids and we followed the river in front of our apartment to our secret trail. Then we took one last walk together outside as a family to get some air before going into isolation.
That was 96 hours ago.
Since that time, despite taking turns each day to go and buy food when necessary, we’ve felt a shift. It’s a bit like being scared to fly for the first time. The boarding and waiting are the worst, but once the plane takes off you breathe a little easier as your body surrenders to the reality that there’s not much you can do.
Over the last few days, as predicted, the number of coronavirus cases has doubled here in Spain and today it sits just shy of 14,000 (update; 24 hours after posting this article, cases have risen by 25 percent)— including both the vice-president and president in Catalunya and the wife of the Spanish president. Despite this, and my history with anxiety, I feel oddly calm. Even with the heavy news, my family and friends, at least around here, have told me they too feel lighter. I guess that’s what happens when you are pushed into the present and forced to hit pause on your future ambitions while leaving your past worries behind.
This isn’t the time to be a rebel and question authority. I’m thankful that an overwhelming percentage of the people in our town understand that.
Stories have arisen, as expected, about some people hoarding supplies, and people meeting their friends in the street. But in my town of 45,000, and from what my friends are reporting today in places like Barcelona and Madrid, most people understand the severity of what is happening. Despite our individual fears, we are all in this together. This newly found sense of community has helped to turn the previous messages of alarm and panic into words of patience and comfort.
It’s been warming to see this shift take place.
We live in a very culturally diverse neighborhood. Children have begun making posters to hang on their terraces to communicate with other kids no matter their age or background. They’re waving and smiling at each other. I’m glad my children get to see this.
Like in so many other places in the world, students are stepping up. They’re offering to assist the elderly and babysit the children of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and supermarket employees.
We haven’t yet broken out into song, like the Italians. But we are banning together to applaud and cheer for health-care workers. My wife’s best friend, who is a doctor, broke down over the weekend upon hearing this appreciation after finishing yet another 12-hour shift.
This has made people look at strangers differently. The most beautiful things are often found in the midst of chaos.
People are calling their loved ones more. They’re checking in on their neighbors to make sure they’re okay. I’m thankful for this. Instead of blindly doing their shopping, last night in the supermarkets, though keeping their distance, people were looking the cashiers in the eye and thanking them.
There is fear, of course. But from where I’m sitting, for the overwhelming majority, there isn’t any hate. That has to count for something. That has to be something worth remembering.
The number of cases is rising. Spain has a very large elderly population. Tourism plays a massive role in the Spanish economy. My neighbor was laid off today from her job at the hospital cafeteria. Many of my friends and family are self-employed. They’re worried about the businesses. They’re worried about the families. They’re obviously not alone. The coronavirus will be felt, both economically and emotionally, for years to come. This is reality.
It’s amazing to see, however, what people are capable of when our backs are against the wall. Trying times bring us together. Little daily annoyances lose power. We are asking ourselves what we can do to make the lives of the people around us better.
People are working all over the globe to find a solution for the coronavirus. Maybe, just maybe, it was sent to us to show us what we are capable of when we stop fighting each other and we start working with each other.
Last night, before going to bed, my wife and I turned on the news and a woman being interviewed summed it up best: “I’m not worried about the virus. I’m worried about the people that won’t take it seriously.”
Then, like a lot of people I’ve been speaking with, she ended her commentary on a positive note —
“Won’t it be great when we can hug again.”
It’s 2:47 pm on Wednesday, March 18th.
After two days of rain, it’s still cloudy, but I’m seeing pockets of sun.
Birds are chirping outside my window.
A family across the way is having a pillow fight.
I’m hearing laughter.
Update: Like the Italians, we have turned to music #Festivaldelsbalcons (Balcony Festival).