This is the third time I have attempted this blog post. It has been difficult to put into words the surrealism of our current situation and I have wavered between writing a brutally honest blog post or trying to join others in writing another positive and uplifting one. Bottom line is, I have so much to say about what we are experiencing and feeling day to day that I don’t even know where the begin. Thanks to the coronavirus, today marks three solid weeks of complete lockdown for us in Spain, second to the US now in highest number of cases and deaths. I have never before missed exchanging Spanish kisses with another as much as I do now.
A friend recently sent me an article on “Three Good Things,” referring to a practice of naming three things each day that are going well as a way to maintain spirits and morale in one’s workplace or personal life. It felt good to realize that members of The Brew Crew have been sharing three gratitudes each day, since we arrived in Spain, as a way of helping us appreciate each other and our surroundings during a time of so many challenging adjustments. My current gratitudes are often repeated; having my health and my family, as my heart goes out to those who are living alone right now in view of the added imposed isolation. Nevertheless, I do experience waves of uncomfortable stillness, anxiety about the unknown path of the virus, and grief over the loss of our remaining time here in Spain, as we had previously imagined it, that are sometimes hard to swallow. When the State Department encouraged all Americans, who were traveling abroad, to return home immediately or plan to stay in their visiting countries indefinitely, we decided it was safest for us to remain here and we felt determined to ride it out, keeping faith that we can maintain our travel plans to the end. But now, all of this makes me want to get home to Seattle faster, which saddens me. In addition, the mental health professional in me wants to give voice to the heaviness that is hard to ignore. Never before have I experienced such a visiting dread, making it hard to get out of bed in the mornings and finding something to motivate me in the midst of so much unknown. Staying connected with others virtually has been critical and so helpful but this also has an exhaustion factor at the same time. Do our neurotransmitters really fire as strongly when there is a screen between us and another human being?
The world is trying hard to appreciate the benefits of lockdown such as slowing down, reducing the use of unsustainable resources, and enjoying more family time. Quinton has learned how to make tortilla omelets; Davis is mastering new magic tricks and Hadley is perfecting her Tik Tok dances. I have never laughed so hard with my kids on the sofa sharing jokes and making videos and George is keeping us all fit, holding us to a daily workout in the parking garage. As great as all this has been, there are certainly those moments when family time does feel overrated. As a friend so aptly remarked and as many of us may be concluding through this lockdown, “we are not that family that knits together or has a family band” and we have had to work hard to respect each other’s space and alone time.
One of the most interesting differences for us, between lockdown in Spain and in the United States is the enforcement. The Spanish police force patrols our streets regularly, ensuring that no one is out of their homes for anything other than an urgent trip to the market or in need of medical care. We are allowed to relieve our pets but technically, not to take them on a walk. Hence, our new puppy, Melegis, is our only access to the outside. George and I both, have been stopped and questioned by the police on our way to the market and early on, Hadley and I ran and hid from the police after trying to play tennis in the street. Just yesterday, the police drove by as I was doing jumping jacks directly outside our front gate so that I could stand in the sunshine, and was told to go inside. Those without a good excuse are receiving fines and we have read that in Italy, the police are assigning 5-year jail sentences to those who have both tested positive and violated the restrictions. Similarly, neighbors are not shy about enforcing the restrictions as well. The other day, as I power walked, about 50 yards from our apartment with not one else in sight, a Spaniard drove by waving his finger at me out his car window, shaming me for leaving my residence.
Our fellow Americans are shocked to hear such extreme methods of enforcement. I believe much of how countries are approaching this pandemic is culturally and historically influenced. The United States was founded under the auspices of freedom and Americans are not used to being told what to do. Consequently, the federal government doesn’t feel comfortable mandating behavioral restrictions on a national level-of which something many of us may be proud. However, this approach may be costing the US more suffering than necessary during a time like this. There is some value, it turns out, in a country having experienced a dictatorship, at one time; of having to follow mandates and unified regulations in order to survive. This background leaves a bit of humility and flexibility to accept extreme measures for a country when it is necessary and beneficial.
While Spain’s lockdown mandates are extreme, the country is also working hard to keep up the morale of its people. The Prime Minister consistently speaks of collaborating and getting through this together. Every night at 8:00pm, Spaniards stand out on their terraces and clap with gratitude for all the professionals who are working day and night to take care of the rest of us. Recently, a parade of police and medical vehicles drove through our town and passed our apartment, blasting their sirens and giving a thumbs up out their windows as if to say, “we appreciate you staying in your homes and we haven’t forgotten about you!”
So, while the boys imagine what new hairdos they will be modeling in the coming weeks, and we perfect our baking skills and binge watch “Once Upon a Time,” we are trying to make the most of this time just to “be” with one another and do our part in this family quarantine. We hold others, both loved ones and strangers, close to our hearts, in hopes that as many as possible can return to life as we knew it, before long.