I was told to cancel my trip to Italy, because of the killer flu. It was the 80’s. Hundreds had died. Don’t ask me what year it was, I’m terrible with time. Was I healthy? I was drinking a lot of alcohol, eating fried foods, had no idea what my body needed, no idea I was allergic to shellfish though my intestines and my colon turned inside out after every time I ate it.
And I got on Alitalia, just like I did after the U.S. bombed Libya and all the flights were empty. I was young and fearless, landed in Rome, went to my hotel and when my fever started, it quickly spiked and I called down to the lobby for more blankets. The man who brought them up admonished me for being a drug addict, thinking I didn’t know enough Italian to know he was shaming me.
I must have looked like someone who needed a fix. I grabbed the blankets and shut the door.
When my boyfriend arrived, he carried my limp, shivering body to his car. It was winter in Rome, and although it doesn’t get very cold there, it was cold as fuck for a sick person. And he carried me to his apartment, in an elevator that smelled like garlic and onions and tomatoes – and handed me to his mother, who was about 4′ 11″, the size of my grandmother.
I don’t remember much of the days that followed. They came in short, dream-like segments – I was hallucinating a bunch of angels who only spoke Italian swirling around me, rosaries brushing against my arm, buckets and buckets of water and towels.
Three days later it’s as if I awoke from a coma. The dinner table was set, I had on clean clothes, there was red wine in small non-wine glasses and a carafe for refills and Italian music softly playing. There were marinated string beans and pasta and water with lemon, and I could hear the washing machine humming.
Someone had brushed my oily hair. And my boyfriend was by the cot as I lifted myself up on one elbow smiling – the cot they set up in the living room. He was crying in gratitude that I was back, and I asked him how many days had passed while he tenderly kissed my fingers.
A lot of old Italian women had created a circle and prayed for me, put water to my lips, stripped me naked and put cool towels on me, their rosaries brushing against my young skin, taking my cotton underwear off and washing it, then putting it back on. None of them afraid of catching this deadly virus or dying too.
The all of me exposed to the all of them.
A moment in humanity that was truly a prayer.
Now here we all are – in the era and the fear of the Corona Virus.
I’m hearing a lot of panic around me.
What if the barges don’t come in? What if tourists stop coming to Hawaii? What if I can’t afford my home because there isn’t a job? What if I can never get to the mainland again?
All the what-if’s in life follow us around like a paranoid, conspiracy theory shadow…they are the kaleidoscope of the future where all our fears overlap, every new fear brings up every old fear, until we are frozen.
Maybe we spend so much time worrying we stop doing the things we love because the worry has taken up all the space, taken all the air out of the room.
Yesterday I was walking behind Common Grounds to see the dam flowing. I came to it through Kuawa Road and passed all the No Trespassing Signs and the My Dog is Going to Kill you signs, when a horse in a pasture came bounding toward me.
After I left the horse, after I looked in the Jupiter of his eyes, and stroked the side of his face, I noticed how quiet it was. Hardly a person walking. Hardly any bird song.
Birds are losing their song on Kauai, going extinct, along with the 2.5 million bird songs that have been silenced around the world. And if bird song is silenced, how will OUR song survive…. isn’t it all interconnected?
My smallest and biggest memory of those Italian women was their prayer and their songs. They sang me Italian lullabies. I couldn’t tell you one word, just that I was floating on the ancient, loving notes as if on a magic carpet in a foreign land.
Perhaps this is the secret. We need to sing away the fears. To protect all the song. Not just ours, but the birds and the whales and the dolphins and the ancestors. To protect the interconnectedness of all beings. Have you seen the air over China through the satellite images? I bet they can finally see the sun.
I encourage all of you to free yourselves from fear.
Things are changing. Change is what we can count on.
Earth will come back into her power. We will have to bow to her. We may have to sacrifice everything we know and look at the world through a different lens and move so differently that someday our children and grandchildren will look at our photographs and say, what’s that?
There might be sacrifice. There will be grief.
But we always have prayer and we always have song. Most important, we have each other.
I remember my first sip of wine after I got up off the small bed and sat at the dinner table, a whole family I didn’t know before I got sick greeting me as if I was finally home – the water, the laughter, the olive oil… and I expressed my gratitude in broken Italian and bad English.
I remember an old woman taking my hand and the familiarity of our hands together, the lines of her hands forever intersecting with mine.
Yup, everyone, that’s our superpower, our elixir.
It’s all going to be okay.