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Social Distancing, the Art of ‘Scansare,’ and Human Connections

In ‘Il Gattopardo,’ The Leopard, by Tomasi di Lampedusa, Tancredi tells the uncle, “Tutto deve cambiare affinche’ tutto resti uguale,” “Everything must change for things to stay as they are.”

We are changing our social distancing rules, but everything will stay the same when it comes down to human interactions. We will use our ingenuity to humanly connect or disconnect with other fellow human beings.

The ‘passeggiata,’ the leisurely stroll, was used by my villagers of Salice, Messina, as a casual strategy to start a relationship or altogether avoid one another. Particular looks, strides, or 'intentional' inadvertent bumps were premeditated to obtain specific reactions.

In celebrated village gossip, one evening, a wealthy young lawyer was strolling with his friends up and down Via Principe Umberto, the only main street in Salice. In the crisscrossing, he was barely touched by a good looking young girl also walking with her friends in the opposite direction.

“Signorina, lei mi ha sfiorato," "Miss, you have touched me," were the words uttered by the young lawyer. As my mom continued with the story, the gossip became an open argument for interpretation. Some villagers translated the words into a possible 'legal suit' for being intentionally bumped physically by a commoner. Other villagers transformed the terms into an unconscious declaration of love. ‘Sfiorato’ reflected on the assumption that the young lawyer’s heart was touched by the young girl.

One hundred or so years later, the 'passeggiata' in cities and towns in America, has become a popular hobby, More so now as a reaction to quarantine directives. The rules of the leisurely stroll have changed. As we walk our neighborhoods, we do not get near afraid of being ‘sfiorati,’ touched. Instead, we are practicing a renewed ‘art form’ of the passeggiata. The opposite of ‘sfiorato,’ ‘scansare,’ avoid. When we notice our fellow humans approaching, we are already planning our strategy. We ask ourselves, “Should I cross the street?” “If I go straight, should I dodge left or right?”

Tommasi Di Lampedusa was correct: Everything must change. However, as we adapt to the new social distancing rules, we will invent subterfuges to stay the same: remain truthful to our human nature. We will use scansare to reconnect. We will smile, nod, and wave from a distance. Our spirit will push us to find the correct vaccine: empathy, compassion, caring. In other words: love for our fellow humans.

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