A few days ago my children (ages 3 and 1.5 years) were trying to give their aunt a hug via the phone screen.
They still haven't understood video calls, even though lately we’ve been making quite a lot of them. The pandemic, which is keeping millions and millions of people indoors around the world, makes no exceptions: we can only see our loved ones using technological means.
Given that it is always better to fill our days with good humor, smiles, and prayers and to push ourselves to make use of our talents, rather than complaining and living in a state of perennial victimization. We must not forget that we miss living life with others because it is not a bonus; it is a human necessity.
To any problem, give it only so much weight. It also applies in this pandemic.
Therefore, for the sake of clarity and respect, let us premise that quarantine is not the most dramatic part of this situation. Health care workers are overwhelmed by exhaustion. There are no respirators - no protection. In many hospitals around the world, people are choosing who to save and who to let die. There are people dying alone and families facing bereavement.
There is an economic crisis that is advancing relentlessly which will leave much in ruins, just like the world wars.
Not all tribulations have the same severity. You have to be realistic and give each problem the weight it deserves.
Yet even quarantine – isolation from everyone – is a cross to bear, albeit a smaller one.
We at Family and Media, who normally, as you know, work in communication, have decided to focus on this aspect because it poses problems in the way we relate to and communicate with one another.
The Quarantine and the "Little Cross" of Isolation
Quarantine is not a condemnation. It is a form of respect for our own lives and the lives of others. It is a renunciation that must be made, but it is still, for all intents and purposes, a renunciation. And we can recognize it without being scared of seeming stupid, superficial, spoiled.
A screen cannot replace the physical presence of the other. A virtual hug will never be like a real hug.
At the same time, however, this time of deprivation can – I dare say it must – teach us a lot.
If we have been blessed with good health and have to deal with "only" the quarantine, we can see this time of trial as an opportunity to learn something about our relationships.
So, what is quarantine teaching us? What should we hold dear both now and when this emergency is over?
1. We can acknowledge the beauty of being together and give thanks for the gift of our loved ones.
Having to give up sharing one's life with relatives, friends, and colleagues helps us to see the beauty of being together.
Even if only on the phone or via chat, we can let our loved ones know how important they are to us – how we can’t wait to be able to share quality time with them again.
We can reflect on how much a simple greeting in a supermarket or town square means to us, or how much joy we receive from being able to gather with others in a church or theatre.
2. We can appreciate physical presence and the face-to-face conversations even more.
Once the emergency is over, we can appreciate even more the beauty of a glance or a smile. Maybe we'll even be able handle putting our cell phones away when we have coffee with someone.
If, on the one hand, technology plays an important role today (in the words of McLuhan, technology is like an "extension of the human being" because it allows us to go where we physically cannot be), we are realizing how temporary it is because we need human contact! This crisis can then "purify" our gaze, make us more attentive in our relationships.
3. We can learn to better balance how much time we spend using technology and on social media.
It's undeniable how technology in this time, as previously mentioned, is helping a lot to keep our ties strong and our activities going... (think about smart working, children who follow classes from home, couples, grandparents who have grandchildren, mothers with children who can see each other via Skype).
More than ever before, social networks can help us to feel less lonely in our homes. They allow us to have contact with the outside world - with those who are far away.
A few days ago I read the story of a nurse who was deeply moved after having lent her phone to a lady suffering from Covid19 who did not have a smartphone. She wanted to see her children to say goodbye to them one last time before she died, even if only on a screen.
At the same time, precisely because these tools are all we have to keep in touch, we are realizing that they are insufficient. They can help, yes, but not replace being together in the flesh.
Technology can be useful when we do not abuse it - when, as it is now, it truly serves mankind and does not replace it.
4. We could make a fresh start with the family - rebuild our relationships in a new fashion.
As the writer Alessandro D'Avenia says in an article recently published on this portal "In these intense days we feel like we’re made of glass, too. Fragile and frightened by every moment of contact, we had to lock ourselves indoors. The effect is as unexpected as it is disruptive: relationships show themselves in their truest form. Narrow spaces and ample time cause inevitable friction and clashes, yet only when we become transparent do we rediscover the quality of our relationships. [...] How long has it been since we have faced the wounds, silences, lies, grudges, and secrets, which have alienated us from those who live with us under the same roof? Now, precisely because we can no longer hide, like Dr. Glass, we have the possibility to make transparent what had been obscured by daily external activities or dulled by repetitive housework and routine."
It would be nice if we tried to work with sincerity and dedication on our closest relationships, perhaps even confiding in God. It would be nice if we took the opportunity to learn or begin to love earnestly again. It would be nice, in short, if we took advantage of all this time to rebuild family relationships from scratch if necessary. Rather than yearning to escape, let's stop. Let's talk. Let's clarify. Let's try to listen. Let's pray together. Let's start again at home - to go out, when we can, with a renewed spirit, with a new impetus also towards others.
5. We could learn, finally, that union is strength.
In emergencies involving the whole of society, overcoming the crisis is only possible if everyone does their part. By all of us respecting the ordinance that asks us to stay isolated in our own homes - however much it costs us - we show that we know how to work together towards a common goal, that we feel part of a community and not stuck on separate islands.
And if union is strength in the face of a pandemic, why shouldn't this always apply? Perhaps, seeing how little we are able to do on our own, in the face of major problems, we will learn that walking together undoubtedly bears more fruit than overtaking each other...