Saturday, March 6th, 2021

O Shopper Columns


Many of us who remember a time when extended families seemed more tight-knit and people knew their neighbors, would find much to love about Italian culture. Italian families tend to be larger and closer. Two and three generations might live together under one roof. Their youth spend much more time socializing with their elders than do their American counterparts. Young Italian professionals working in urban centers often return to their family's home in the country at the end of the day. And of course, Italians are more openly affectionate with each other. The physicality on display when friends meet- the hand-clasping, hugging and kissing- inspires in many of us a mixture of discomfort and envy. I don't think I'm alone in wishing that we Americans were more comfortable such public displays of affection. There seems to be something so full-blooded, rich and warm- something so earthy and human about Italian culture...

All of which makes the astronomical death toll in Italy due to COVID-19 so terrible. Italians were easy prey for the virus precisely because of their tight-knit families, the tender social ties between the generations, and the warm embraces shared by friends. This is the awful truth about the virus: it takes advantage of the very traits that make us human.

This is the awful truth about the virus:
it takes advantage of the very traits
that make us human.

Humans are social animals. We hug, kiss, shake hands, form families, and live in communities- and our lives tend to be more meaningful when those communities are close and supportive.

We, humans, have other traits as well. We have an innate curiosity about the world in which we live that inspires us to question nature- to ask why things are the way they are. And our minds are inherently innovative. Increased understanding ignites innovation. If we understand how a particular disease operates, then perhaps we can halt its progress. The results of these human traits are the hospitals where doctors, nurses, caregivers and first responders valiantly fight to save lives. (We seldom speak of valor these days, but in watching the brave women and men on the front lines of this pandemic, it is the first word that comes to mind.)

We can develop technologies- many of which make it possible for us to overcome the physical distancing that is now necessary. And the human trait of creativity is responsible for the songs, poems, stories, and art that we share with one another online. If anyone honestly believes the arts are not necessary, imagine being self-quarantined without music to listen to; without a book, magazine, newspaper, blog- literature of some sort to read; without a TV show or movie to watch. Such things touch our hearts and minds even when there is no one near to touch our hands or hold us in their embrace.

Yes, this virus takes advantage of many of the traits that make us human. But we have other traits that will allow us to survive this ordeal. And when it is over, we will have the human faculty of memory and the human desire to find meaning in any situation. With these, we can pass on to future generations the knowledge of what we endured and what it taught us.

Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouth’s official channel) since 2011.