Monday, March 30, 2020

Happiness is spread as easily as any virus

Josefina Olivo at home
     "The first thing that the plague brought to our fellow citizens was exile,” Albert Camus writes in his novel, "The Plague." That, and “being separated from a loved one… the greatest agony of that long period of exile.” 
     Which is why, even with everything going on, the little sidewalk celebrations that have been popping up everywhere are still noteworthy. They might not be as key as social distancing and hand washing. But they are still important—Camus thought such kindnesses were essential: “It may seem a ridiculous idea," he writes, "but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.”

     ”Abre la puerta!” said Josefina Olivo, seeing her family line the sidewalk in front of her house on West 58th Street. Open the door.
     ”No abre la puerta,” her son gently cautioned. Don’t open the door.
     It was March 20, Olivo’s 95th birthday. Five years ago her big family — she has five children, 19 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren — threw a big party for her at a fancy restaurant, with purple balloons, her favorite color.

      Now in the time of coronavirus, the woman referred to as “our matriarch” by her family stood in a purple dress — one granddaughter calls her “Lil Petunia” — and was serenaded with music and signs. She waved.
    Life has a habit of plucking away our joys even in the best of times. It was hard enough for Olivo, then in her late 80s, to stop making 20 lamb cakes every Easter — a tradition she borrowed from a Polish friend in the West Loop bindery where they worked. Pressed by her family — baking took three full days — she cut back to only 10 “los borreguitos,” or little lambs. Now she can’t even hug her grandchildren.
      Still, everyone is free to spread joy, even during a plague. With all the worries about contamination, jobs, supplies, social distancing, it should be noted that people also take time to brighten the days of loved ones, or even complete strangers.

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  1. Tugs at the heart. So special, relatives throwing sidewalk parties for the elderly and teachers and firemen doing drive-by hellos for kids.

  2. Nice respite. These things.... we’ll remember.


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