A Deep Echo With No Return: Reflections From Italy

This guest blog from Italian student Maria Antonietta Sgro came to us from BC Law professor Katie Young. Professor Young had been scheduled to co-teach a course on law and technology in Italy this spring with professor Amedeo Santosuosso at the University of Pavia, but when his students went into lockdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the class was canceled. Professor Young invited the students to share their reflections on how their lives had been impacted by this disease, and Maria’s post below is one particularly moving answer.

1,206.07 km.

It’s not a random number. Maybe for some it’s insignificant, and for others it doesn’t mean anything. But for me it represents a barrier. A wall of distance that separates me from what has been my home, full of love, life, laughter, the sea and–last but not least–my family for 19 years.

I’m writing from my desk, illuminated with a lamp, because here in Pavia (in the northern part of Italy) it’s already dark at 6:45 p.m. Even though I can’t see anything from my window, I used to be able to know the difference between the sunrise, when the morning flowed fast, and the sunset, when the silence became comfortably pleasant after a long day full of noise. But now there seems to be no difference between day and night. Silence is my master, and I am always seeing gray.

I no longer hear the little birds singing; in good weather, their singing was pleasant. I no longer hear the children leaving school, screaming with happiness. I no longer hear my neighbor. Sometimes it seems that I no longer feel myself.

It’s like everything is rumbling, a deep echo with no return.

This is not the beginning of a horror movie. This is just a small window into how my life, and the lives of so many other people, have changed so quickly.

For 11 days now the routine is always the same, and the only difference is that now the computer is my new best friend and, for this reason, I always look for someone to talk with on a video call to make myself less lonely. Who would have guessed that the only way to see a new love would be this? Looking through a screen, trying to make everything better while being overpowered by the desire to go beyond that screen and hug each other so strongly that it takes our breath away.

Up to now, my life and that of many of my contemporaries has been a succession of events, deadlines to meet, university exams and projects. At the same time, I never thought about how important it was to touch someone; yes, to touch a warm hand and feel the pulse of another’s blood. Touch someone’s face and feel the imperfections of skin. Listen to someone’s voice, and not be pulled away by distractions during these empty days. The thoughts that envelop me are always the same: rhetorical and sad thoughts. I miss my family. I need my grandmother’s hugs. I want to hold my little cousins.

Who expected all this? Everything changed, seemingly overnight. Now our lives are closed off and we have to adapt. Now, the “other” is a problem–an enemy, because you have to be afraid of everything and be careful if you don’t want to get sick. All the priorities I have held until now seem stupid and senseless. Who could have imagined that four walls would be all to keep me company, and that I would have the time to learn every single imperfection present in them? Who could have imagined that I, a former rebellious teenager, would be counting and recounting the distance between Pavia and my hometown?

Most of you probably don’t know my country, but I want to describe it a little bit, so it might be easier for you to understand me. Bagnara Calabra is a very small town with few inhabitants now, most of them emigrated to northern Italy or abroad. I like to call it a “treasure chest:” on one hand it is bathed by the sea, which I love, and on the other side it is surrounded by the mountains.

Since I’ve been living alone, going home has always represented my touchstone, my refuge, my safe haven. But I’ve never really understood how important it was for me to be sitting and watching the sunset with my grandmother; how going home again was good for me; how important it was to have the freedom to return.

Now that Covid-19 is spreading across the world and I find myself locked here with my thoughts, I think that maybe all this makes some kind of strange sense. Maybe so many deaths have not been in vain. I believe that nature may have given us a warning: a warning to pay attention. Often the days go by so fast, and we don’t even know how or where they have gone–but then, in moments like these when we get our time back and sit with ourselves, it’s as if everything collapses; we realize how many things we could have done, said, built–what we have not done, and not said.

The 1206.07 km that keeps me away from the most important things in my life will never let me forget or move away from who I am and who I am meant to be. I just hope I have the mental strength to hold on, and that all this will serve me well in the future.

So I feel it must be said: thank you COVID-19, for you are cruel, but revealing.

Maria Antonietta Sgro, Pavia, Italy

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