I don’t know how to write this post. I’ve been sad all weekend. My heart is heavy.
It’s a bit surreal to be in Italy when the numbers of infection are rising in the States. The numbers have now surpassed Italy. Significantly. Exponentially. Over 142,000 cases in America; over 98,000 in Italy.
Three weeks ago, you were all so very worried about me. Ten days ago, I decided to stay in the heart of the epidemic, rather than risk returning home. I still believe staying was the right thing to do. It is safer for me to stay put. I knew this virus was coming to the States. And it has. The first wave has arrived. You’re in the thick of it now. Everyone I know is in quarantine. Some of you still have the ability to take a ride in your car or on your bike or stroll on the streets. Seriously – I’m not kidding – my chest contracts every time I hear this or see your photos. I’m glad you’re able to still enjoy these privileges. At the same time … at the same time… I really want you to stay home. It’s like watching a Halloween horror film when you know Jason is waiting but the other characters have no clue. Only this isn’t a movie and you aren’t actors. This is real. And it’s about to get worse.
You know how you know something intellectually and so you think you know it? Goodness, that has happened so many times in my life. And then something happens, and suddenly you know that thing viscerally. It’s no longer a knowing in your head. Now you know it in your body. Now it’s a physical knowing. Very different. Very, very, different. If this has ever happened to you, you know what I mean. If it hasn’t, I can’t explain it.
I knew the virus would hit the States and it was going to be awful. But honestly, it didn’t occur to me that people I know would die. It all seemed, somehow, very analytical. Matter of fact. Devoid of any emotion except concern. Statistical.
No longer. My former home, where I lived for 14 years, a place I love dearly, filled with people who are so special to me, is now a hot spot.
People I love are going to die.
Friends of mine are already mourning friends.
I think maybe I’m in a premature mourning. Premature, yes, that’s what I’ve been thinking. Yes, I’ve read the articles about grief at this time in history. Yes, I’ve been looking at my emotions analytically, through my dreams, and more. That’s why I finally decided to post these thoughts to the blog: it’s one way for me to own these feelings. To sit with them, uncomfortable and messy as they are. Even if they are socially unfavorable. Let’s face it: no one wants to talk about death.
Again, there are so many things I could say. How death isn’t a stranger to me. Actually, I know it pretty damn well. And I honestly believe nothing – no one, no living thing – ever dies. We merely change form. But you know what? It never gets easier. You think it will, but it doesn’t. Not if every death is personal, not if you allow yourself to connect. If it’s statistical, sure, that’s a bit better. It’s still a sucker punch, particularly in larger numbers. But when it’s personal… My heart is bleeding for every medical worker on the front lines right now. Every nurse, every doctor, every EMT – every single person who is dealing with this face to face every single day. Man, I was there during HIV/AIDS. That was brutal. But this – I never thought I’d say this, could never imagine having a reason to say this – this is worse.
And I won’t be there. I won’t be in my country.
And if I were in the states, what good could I do? I would still be at a distance. Unable to be with the people I love. Sadly, that’s the truth of it. For the first time, I truly feel so very far away. More than that, I feel like a traitor. Like I traded my own safety to be here alone instead of being there with you. It didn’t matter to me when it was just about me. Of course I’m fine alone. Yes, I’m riding waves of emotions, but that’s not new to me. Only, now I am no longer an observer. I am no longer an American trying to understand what is happening in Italy. I am an American separated from my friends. Now it’s about us. Am I in this with you or not?
Early this morning someone very dear to me wrote and told me how she is unbelievably fatigued. So inexplicably tired. From the news, she thinks. Yes, I think she is right. And then suddenly I remember.
The last time I felt this way was when Princess Diana died. And then, a few days later, Mother Teresa. It was an odd thing, this collective grief. A vibrational wailing, echoing across oceans. Different from anything else, different even from AIDS. The grief from AIDS was staggering. The grief from the passing of two great women was penetrating. Like a light had been blown out. And still, it was not this.
Now all the grief in Italy catches up to me. The photos of caskets filling churches. Obituaries filling page after page. The fear. Like an unexpected wind, fiercely pushing against my body, I am struggling to stay erect as I straddle between two countries. My eyes are wet and facing west.
What I thought was premature is, in fact, here. We are all mourning. Each of us. In various stages. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Some even still in denial. What will acceptance feel like, I wonder?
A new world. A new beginning.
But I’m not there yet. And I suspect, neither are you.