How I experience the global crisis in Amsterdam

‘Corona Heroes’

We walked to the office this morning. Virtual schooling started today and it felt good for the daughter to have a schedule, a purpose. All the tourist hot spots were deserted. A few cars, some policemen patrolling on their scooters, delivery trucks. The pigeons must be in trouble, too. Almost no tourists, takeout food severely limited, no crumbs to dine on. We passed by the Rembrandt House, the place where the artist lived in the 17th century for 16 years.

Rembrandt lived for 63 years and he experienced 4 bubonic plagues. From 1635 to 1637, the bubonic plague ravaged the Netherlands, killing more than 17,000 people in Amsterdam alone (1/7 of the population). In neighboring cities of Leiden 33% of the population was killed and in Haarlem 14%. The other three occurrences of the plague, one-ninth, one-eighth and one-sixth of Amsterdam perished, respectively.

Hendrickje Stoffels

Hendrickje Stoffels was Rembrandt’s widowed housekeeper before becoming his partner in life and business. They never got married but brought up a son together and she kept him afloat when he went bankrupt. You can feel Rembrandt’s affection for her the way he painted her gaze through soft, dark eyes. An intimate portrait, sharing his emotions with the world. In 1663, a ship from Algiers brought the plague. And an end to their love and her life.

Listening to The Daily yesterday broke me. Michael Barbaro interviewed an Italian doctor from a clinic in Bergamo, the current hotspot. Almost 500 employees of the hospital are sick, he cries every day. He describes that COVID-19 patients die alone because loved ones are not allowed to visit them. And I imagined an older woman but with 10+ more promised years, lying alone in a hospital bed after a full life, her family worrying for her at home and she has to take her last breath completely alone. The last thing she saw was not her husband or her family. It was the ceiling, the machines. That’s how it ended for her. And so many others. Just yesterday 319 people died in this region of Italy. Alone.

‘Applause for the caretakers’

We clapped last night for the caretakers. For a few moments, we came together and cheered. And we cheered for ourselves. We need a lot of cheering these days. It’s hard to believe how quickly everything has changed. How quickly we moved from a fully functioning world to a broken reality. The bad news keeps on coming, just like a constant bombardment that doesn’t stop. We are under attack from reality and there’s nowhere to escape. There are moments when you make yourself a cup of coffee, sit down at the desk and do some work, when everything seems to be okay. But you look out on the empty streets, you see the phone exploding with updates and you give in to the reality.

I’ve been scared about a broken reality three times: 911, financial crisis and today. This is the scariest one because it leaves us powerless and we make decisions out of fear. This pandemic will end. Just like the many ones before. Rembrandt lived through four pandemics. He lost his beloved partners, family members, friends, acquaintances. But he kept going. He chose growth instead of fear. That’s our job now.