Commentary

Dispatch from Rome: On hope and COVID-19

It is 6 p.m in Rome. The entire city has been in COVID-19 lock-down for a month. It only seems longer.

After all this time, everyone would much prefer to be outside. The weather today was beautiful. Blue skies and wispy clouds beckoned. Nobody within sight of my apartment window succumbed to the siren’s call though. Music is playing on jerry-rigged loudspeakers so our entire piazza can hear. By now it is a nightly ritual that the whole neighborhood appreciates. It is a recognition that even though we may all be isolated: we are never actually alone. This gives me hope.

Italian officials have just recorded the lowest death rate due to COVID-19 in over two weeks. Everyone is intensely aware that Italy has suffered more deaths than any other country in the world. Although, it may be important at this juncture to point out that the U.S .could easily exceed the total number soon.

There were 525 official fatalities reported on Sunday: the lowest since March 16. The total number of hospitalized fell for the first time to almost 29,000.

A worry: the number of new confirmed cases made a slight uptick to nearly 3,000.

Director Silvio Brusaferro of the Italian Health Service stated, “The curve has started its descent and the number of deaths has started to drop.” At the same time, the Italian Civil Protection Service Chief, Angelo Borelli warned, “…we should not let our guard down.”

Although most numbers seem headed in a positive direction, it is important to note that the actual figures are no doubt higher because some die at home and are therefore not yet recorded. Also, not everyone can be tested. So, nobody knows precisely how many were slain by the virus. Still, while current circumstances remain grim, these above reports suggest that self-isolation and social-distancing protocols may be working. At least that is what literally everyone is hoping. It is perhaps too early to break out a bottle of champagne, though.

I did the weekly shopping outfitted in both surgical mask and latex gloves this morning. Everyone else I observed at the local market was similarly decked-out, including store proprietors and their staffs. Everyone maintained a respectful distance, so as not to endanger others. The effort is very much appreciated. Behind the masks of those behind the counter I sensed more than I knew the welcoming smiles indicated by the slight wrinkling under their eyes. The voices remain remarkably cheerful. Those in the market appreciate the business. This is a local market, and I am the only foreigner. Once they realize that I am an English speaker, they tend to become even more attentive and helpful. I respond in what Italian I can manage as if to express my appreciation.

Only essential stores are supposed to be open.

However, I observed and subsequently entered an open tiny neighborhood liquor store on my way walking awkwardly back to our apartment while carrying multiple bags of groceries. It seems that the Italians consider alcoholic beverages “essential.” Is it any wonder why we like Italy so much? I immediately purchased two bottles of my favorite premium vodka. Nobody knows for sure how long the lockdown will last.

After all, the motto “Be prepared” was never intended to be the sole province of the Boy Scouts of America.

One of my former bosses, a past Chief of Staff of the US Army, General Pete Schoomaker, then a mere promotable brigadier commanding the Joint Special Operations Command, once told me, “Bob, hope is not a course of action.”

He was right then, and his wisdom remains unchallenged. In my recently published book, I took a more fulsome tack, “Hope is the only illusion worthy of embrace. Still, hope is not a replacement for intelligence, hard work, and perseverance.” I believe that this was probably the general’s point all along.

My wife and I continue to wait out the virus in our Rome apartment. Hope may well be the quintessential human characteristic. Of course, hope, like several human characteristics, may be more tolerable with a chilled martini in hand. Bouna fortuna

Robert Bruce Adolph is a former United Nations Chief Security Advisor and US Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel. He recently published a startling book entitled “Surviving the United Nations: The Unexpected Challenge,” that is available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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