The Road Less Taken: Three lessons from the long-term lockdown in Italy

Live in the present (photo: Savor the Moment Travel Facebook page)
March 24th, 2020 5:00 pm| by Jessica Alexander
Facebooktwitterpinterestmail

I am an American author and parenting expert currently living in Rome. I recently spoke to BBC World News about how it felt to be here. As many know, Italy was one of the first countries in the western world to go on lockdown. At that time, it wasn’t clear whether it was the right decision to shut a whole country down or not. These kinds of measures seemed inconceivable for the rest of the world – ‘draconian’ was the word used to describe it. No-one could believe this would ever happen in another country, much less much of Europe, the UK and America.

However, as I talk with my family in the US now, I hear the reality dawning on them in the same way it had for me. The realisation breaks through, imperceptible at first – this is a disease on the horizon and could never happen like that here. Then there are the first clear rays and the questions begin: what is the coronavirus? Could I, or my family be at risk? Then there is the blinding realisation that it’s here, it’s serious and everything is shutting down: a domino effect of closures of school, bars, restaurants, businesses etc. “This is going to ruin the economy” we say. “This is going to bankrupt so many!” 

I hear my family and friends going through these stages and I know that there will be a new phase should isolation take place for an extended period of time. In Italy, we are finishing off our third week at home and there is no end in sight. The April 3 deadline has been lifted and we don’t know when it will be over. Thus, in these strange times, I wanted to share three lessons I hope will help should you find yourself in a similar situation.

Let it go
When we were in the first stages of denial, confusion and anger, we were worried. We were thinking about ourselves and what this would mean for us. My husband’s business was shut down and we had employees to pay. How could this be happening? How could anyone work and homeschool their kids? Then, as the health care system began to creak and groan under the weight of dying patients, the gravity of the situation set in and we hunkered down in humility. In this phase, we realised that worrying wouldn’t help anyone and this wasn’t just about us. We have absolutely no control over what is happening right now and no-one knows what tomorrow will bring. Letting go, stopping worrying for now and living in the present has never felt so significant. 

Find your rhythm
Keeping a routine helps a lot in these times, but whereas the beginning phase seemed to be about scrambling to keep up with the rest of the world, the second phase felt a little more about getting a rhythm that worked for all of us. I found it impossible to work in the beginning due to stress, and I was stricter with the homeschooling schedule, but now we have settled into a slower pace and take it a bit more as it comes. We have a routine, but we work more as a team and have a nice ebb and flow. It takes some time to realise you are really home for the long haul, but once it sinks in, it’s almost a relief.

Savour the last times
One of my favorite authors, Sam Harris, talks about thinking about doing things for the last time. This is to foster mindfulness and an appreciation for the little things we often overlook. Anyone facing a life-threatening disease may know what this feels like – but it’s hard to conjure up this awareness in our everyday hustle and bustle. Going into our umpteenth day of lockdown, I now vividly remember the last time we had a meal out, the last time we saw the sea, the last time I went shopping with my daughter before everything closed. Now, we live in the moment. Now, we live day to day. Now, we respect all the potential last times we get. Whether it’s homeschooling my children or cutting vegetables, planting seeds or cuddling together while watching a film, every little moment is an opportunity to breathe in and savour the last time. These may be the last times we live in a space before the economy crashes down. These may be the last times before we get the news of a loved one being sick or dying. These may be the last times we all live without a heaviness our society has never carried in our lifetime. Therefore, savour these last times. They are the silver linings of a lockdown and a beautiful gift.

Jessica Alexander


Jessica is a bestselling US author, Danish parenting expert, columnist, speaker, and cultural researcher. Her work has been featured in TIME, Huffington Post, The Atlantic and The NY Times, among others. She graduated with a BS in psychology and speaks four languages. She currently lives in Italy with her Danish husband and two children. Follow her on Instagram @jessiscajoellealexander.