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Dispatch from Madrid: Feeling Community Through My Window

Campus Life

Illustration of a blonde person with long hair leaning out a balcony, looking over Madrid while other people clap in their windows

Published June 18, 2020

Community. That is the word that has caught my attention. Hope you forgive me for my rusty English.

I have lived in Spain since graduation in 1992. I got married in 1993 and have three children. Coronavirus, as you may know, has hit us hard in Madrid. I can tell you terrible stories of our elder people dying alone in the elder homes, our hospitals not able to manage the situation. 

My best friend lives in Milan. When all the news about people getting infected there came out, I called my friend. She was clear. “Be careful, my dear friend,” she said. “Take all the precautions you can. It is late for us in Milan, but you have got a chance in Spain!” 

I told my husband about her advice. He was not too happy about staying at home before confinement was official. I took all basic measures and precautions. I got material so I could paint for months at home, bought food, took the dogs to the vet and said my goodbyes to my friends. That was it. 

My husband took his chances and went to work and to the gym against my advice. The day confinement began he started feeling unwell. One day he had muscular pain, then stomach pain, headaches. This went on for 10 days. On day 11 he started coughing. On day 12 he got a fever and we went to the hospital. He had pneumonia caused by coronavirus. They gave him medication and we were sent home. The next two weeks were difficult. I tried to keep my children away from our room, but keeping someone isolated is not so easy. I fed him and washed his clothes and sheets every day hoping that by the time I got sick he would be feeling better. 

After two weeks he felt better and the doctor said his lungs looked much better, too. I was feeling just OK. In the evenings I felt muscular pain and a little fever for three days. Today, we both feel OK. We are happy it is over and that our children seem to be fine. 

On those dark and long days, the best part was getting to the window and feeling our community. Clapping hands to thank all the sanitary and other professionals has been going on in Spain since the first day of confinement. All of us clapping for one minute to thank them and to feel part of something larger than us. 

For me, that long minute was the best part of the day. Every day. Feeling we were there one more day to be able to share. 

As my friend said to me, “I will ask you to take all precautions. When the dark days come, remember we are part of something greater than us, our community.” I hope this will help you as it did for me.

This story appears in the Summer 2020 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.


Cover of SAQ "Time will tell how we survived, how we lost and how we grew as individuals and as a community." -Libby Swearengen Cerullo ’82


A Semester Like No Other: How the class of 2020 left campus with a proper send-off. 

Smith’s All-Hands Crisis Response: Entire campus community takes up an array of challenges presented by a dangerous pandemic.

Connection Out of Isolation: 12 voices collaborate on a poem for our time.

Mission to Make Masks: Students, staff rev up sewing machines to fill a community need. 

One Student: Studio art major Sophie Willard Van Sistine ’22 finds her niche writing comics. 

Race for a Vaccine: Dr. Annie De Groot ’78 and her biotech firm are on the front line to stop COVID-19 in its tracks.

Virtual Togetherness: Quarantines fall away as Smith friends Zoom into one another’s living rooms.

Echoes of a Pandemic: From canceled classes to campus quarantines, effects of the 1918 Spanish flu ring familiar.

Finding the Funny: An improv comedian’s tips for staying sane in the pandemic.

How Can I Help? From online classes to concerts and community fundraisers, alumnae find creative ways to ease the burden of those in need.

The Morning Call That Never Came: Death of a parent in the age of COVID-19 carries an extra layer of grief.

Racialization of Infectious Disease: As viruses spread, so does discrimination against marginalized groups.

Dawn of a New Day: Faith leaders impart messages of hope, acceptance and belief in our collective power to work for a better world.

Illustration by Sol Cotti