Breaking News
More () »

'I choose hope': Reflections from a Seattle native living in Italy

Lisa Marchese grew up in Seattle but now lives and works in Italy. She agreed to share some reflections about living through the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy.

Lisa M. Marchese (special to KGW)

Lisa Marchese

Published: 2:52 PM PDT March 24, 2020
Updated: 3:19 PM PDT March 24, 2020

Editor's note: Lisa Marchese is single. "I married my job several years ago," she jokes. She is a recovering litigator who had a thriving law practice in the Northwest until one day she discovered she was burned out and wanted a change. She grew up in Seattle and attended Blanchet High School. That’s where she and KGW reporter Pat Dooris met. Recently, during social media discussions about their upcoming 40th high school reunion, Lisa mentioned she now lives and works in Italy. Pat asked if she would share some reflections about life there with the Coronavirus. This is the result.

Are you sick? Can you go outside? Are people singing from the balconies on your street? Do you have enough food? These are just some of the many questions I get now almost daily from family and friends back home.

I don't mind the questions at all. In fact, they are comforting because I know they come from people who love and care about me. During these extraordinary times that is about the best gift anyone could receive.

I am an expatriate from Seattle, working in Italy. With a population of over 60 million, Italy is now the world's epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. Italy's northern region of Lombardia, with over 10 million inhabitants, has been hit the hardest, by far. I live in Milano, the capital of Lombardia. I go to sleep every night at ground zero. Three weeks ago, I was upset that my gym had closed. Now I get up every morning and celebrate another day without flu-like symptoms.  

These days, I, too, ask myself a lot of questions. Usually, they are the same ones and they pound at me all day long. What the f__ has happened? Why did this happen? What if I get sick? What if someone in my family gets sick back home? Will I ever go home again? What will it be like when this all ends? And the most difficult one of all: What happens when the person you are today leaves this world and meets the person you could have become? So far, I really do not like my answer to that question. Just as the world was not ready for the coronavirus pandemic, I am not ready for that imagined encounter.

Credit: Lisa Marchese
Lisa Marchese grew up in Seattle but now lives and works in Italy. She agreed to share with KGW some of her experiences about living through the outbreak of COVID-19 in Italy.

As for the efficacy of all these questions and answers (the tools of my trade as a recovering trial lawyer), there is something else that bothers me too. It is hard to give honest answers to the people you love about what things are really like here at the epicenter. If I really told the truth about everything I have seen, experienced and how I feel about all of this, they would worry — especially my parents. I was raised in a traditional Italian Catholic family with a strong work ethic and an even stronger belief that you stand tall in the face of adversity. Above all, you protect your family and loved ones without condition, so much so that love and loyalty often get lost in each other. If you find yourself living in a hot war zone during the middle of a global pandemic, you tell them everything is just fine, even when it is not. Why upset people when you should protect them? Can I really protect them? Should I try? These questions race through my mind daily and they are exhausting. Cross examining adverse witnesses was a whole lot easier than this kind of self/cross examination.

I believe everything in our lives happens for a reason. Our challenge is to make sense of these events when they occur. I embrace my Catholic faith, even though I have many faults and failings. Like most everyone else these days, I pray. I ask for strength. I ask for healing. I ask for help. But I also I have a lot of anger and other destructive emotions that need an outlet, or they will continue to eat away at me from the inside out like acid. Then, somewhat out of the blue, an old high school friend contacted me and asked if I would write about my experiences. At first, I wasn't very enthusiastic. Then, I thought about it a little more. Maybe the universe is inviting me to vent in a constructive way. After all, my red wine stash will only last so long.

Better still, maybe I have the chance to find the good in all of this and share a message of hope. It will be a challenge because what is happening in Italy is catastrophic, cataclysmic and unparalleled with anything I have ever experienced in my lifetime. None of us will ever go back to the lives we had before. We will all live in a new normal when it is over. But the tragedies we endure in our lives will either define us or destroy us. The choice is ours to make. I choose the former. I choose hope. Although this pandemic is life-changing for us all, I firmly believe in the end, "andrà tutto bene (everything will be alright)."

Having committed to tell the story, the undertaking gets a little harder. How do you describe the indescribable? History has recorded many devastating pandemics. It would certainly be easy to wax poetic about the Spanish Flu of 1918 which originated in Europe and wiped out about one-third of the world’s population. But the world was a different place then. There was no internet or 24-hour news cycle complete with social media generated hysteria. The world was far less connected and people were far more self-sufficient. For one thing, they didn't feel the need to panic buy all the toilet paper in their local markets to ensure their survival.

While there are no shortages of historical parallels, our experiences with this pandemic are very different. We are much more technologically advanced. However, we are more interdependent and far more vulnerable. It is one thing to study the affairs of history. It is quite another to live through the events that become our history. The experience of living through this period is the story that should be told. Natalia Ginzburg, one of the greatest Italian authors of 20th Century once observed, "I think of a writer as a river. You reflect what passes before you." As one of my favorite writers, I feel it is appropriate to draw upon Ginzburg’s wisdom now as I try to share my reflections from ground zero in Milano.

Before You Leave, Check This Out