What Life Is Really About

Para ler em Português, clique aqui.

Back in the day, when the world was still a normal place, my wife and I had begun to see some odd stuff when we would go out in Nice, France, where we usually live. We could be in a cosy restaurant eating a wonderful meal. If we looked around, we’d see a lot of people in there with us.

But they would not be talking.

They would not be enjoying their meals.

No. They would be staring at their phones.

It seemed like such a waste of a special moment, you know? And yet at one point or another we have all been guilty of not paying attention to each other. A good friend is telling us a story, but we are writing a text at the same time. An old colleague invites us out for a coffee, but we forget all about it. This is what happens. We are too busy, too distracted. There are too many games to play, too many emails to check, too many social media feeds to scroll through.

Just to be clear, I will never say that this coronavirus is a good thing. Not at all. But when all of this is over, I hope we will have spent so much time apart that we’ll reassess our values, both as individuals and as a society. I hope we will realise what is important in life.

When times are tough, we humans tend to adapt. Our circumstances change our habits. Sometimes they also change the way we see the world.

Our circumstances change our habits. Sometimes they also change the way we see the world.

I am speaking from experience here — above all as a father. About six weeks ago my wife, Jocelina, walked into a supermarket in Nice and saw mayhem: people running around with trollies, emptying the shelves, hoarding toilet paper. At around the same time, I was talking to Adrien Tamèze, a friend of mine who plays for Atalanta, a team in Bergamo, Italy, one of the cities most affected by the virus. He was telling me that there was no longer space in the cemeteries. I knew France was about 10 days behind Italy. When the virus hit France and they suspended the league, I knew it was going to be almost like a war. And when “war” breaks out, you want to be close to your family and relatives. You want to be in your homeland. It’s just one of those things. So Jocelina and I flew with our three kids to Salvador, Brazil, my hometown.

Dante Bonfim

My life has been turned upside down. In Nice I used to take Diogo, Laura and Sophia to school, then head straight to the training ground. Part of my job would be to battle strikers and fly into tackles. When I came home I’d be too tired to do anything.

Now my job is to cook, make coffee, and help Jocelina clean the house. I’m with my kids all day.

You might say that I have never been a better father than now. I have certainly never been more present. Our schedule is a bit mad. We are keeping European time so that the kids can do their online classes together with their classmates in France. We also want them to adapt to the local time quickly once we go back to Nice. Since classes begin at 4:10 a.m. our time, we get up super early to prepare. Are the kids organised? Do they understand everything? Do they need help? At 11 a.m., classes finish and it’s time for lunch. We cook, eat and wash the dishes. Then the kids play, while I do the training program the club has sent me, or continue my studies to become a coach. Then at 6 p.m. it’s time for bed. And so it goes.

Man, it’s weird going to bed at 6 p.m. Sometimes my head is struggling to understand what is going on. But I’m enjoying it. It’s so nice to see my kids learn things and make progress. My highlight of the week used to be the big match at the weekend. Now it’s helping out with homework.

When I’m not training or studying or helping the kids, I’m watching the news. When will we be able to go back to France? I don’t know. We have 10 matches left in the season, but I can’t really bring myself to think about football right now. I am more worried about the number of people around the world who are infected. It’s scary. Every day we are seeing people lose their loved ones. We are seeing mourning families who do not even get the dignity of burying the ones they have lost. It breaks your heart.

I pray every day that all of this will end, that I one morning will turn on the television and see that everyone has become healthy. But I don’t have a clue what will happen. Based on what is going on in China and Italy, I expect at least three more months of isolation, but even that might not be enough. We are all suffering. We don’t know whether this is the end of the crisis or the beginning. It’s distressing. Sometimes I struggle to sleep.

My highlight of the week used to be the big match at the weekend. Now it’s helping out with homework.

When you see how much others are suffering, you begin to change your own behaviour. I’m now more likely than ever to pick up the phone and call someone. Maybe I’ll want to discuss some training drills with a coach who is also studying for his badges. Maybe I’ll check in on a family member. Maybe I’ll call a friend for a chat about nothing in particular. Whoever I talk to, I try to stay positive and help in any way I can. That is how we’ll beat this virus. We cannot think that this is the end of the world, or that this crisis will never end. No. We have to deal with reality as best we can, and try to look out for each other. Good vibes will win in the end.

I think it’s easy to underestimate how much a simple phone call can mean to someone right now. A lot of people are lonely and distressed, probably more so than most of us realise. Two people I know who struggle with panic attacks went to the supermarket the other day, saw the chaos and had problems. Of course I called them. Many of my relatives do not have the same financial security that I do, so I thank God that I am in a position to help them.

But not everyone in Brazil knows a professional footballer. What is happening in this country really worries me. So many mixed signals are being sent out. If you tell people to stay at home, they will. But if you also give them the option of going out, what will they do? They will follow the easiest path. We all have to be on the same page, because things are much more serious than we imagine. We also need solidarity. Let’s find a solution for those who earn the minimum wage, and let’s not forget the self-employed. The big businessmen should do what they can to help the most vulnerable.

Everyone has the right to have food on the table. That is the truth. We cannot expect people who go all day without eating to just stay at home and do nothing. Hunger hurts like hell.

While it’s important to stay positive, I think we also have to be realistic enough to accept that this won’t end in just a few weeks. It will be tough, not just for Brazilians, but for Americans and Europeans as well. When all of this is over, the world will be a different place.

Hopefully we will be different, too.

We will be more hygienic. We will enjoy a world that is less polluted. We will have realised that people generally do a lot of unnecessary things. Right now rich people cannot go shopping. Those who own private jets cannot use them. Fancy gestures made to impress people make no sense now. We are all in the same boat, trying to survive together. We are all having to give up something to help others. Even those who tend to be selfish are having to think about the common good, because the only thing that will beat this virus is solidarity. That is a fact.

The only thing that will beat this virus is solidarity. That is a fact.

The longer we are apart from each other, the more we are realising how much we miss being with each other. I’m talking about human contact. That is what I hope we will value the most after this crisis, be it in restaurants or elsewhere. I’m not denying the importance of technology and efficient communication. The world has evolved, we must understand that. Smartphones and tablets are what enable us to stay in touch right now. But by the time this quarantine is over, we’ll be used to looking at our screens 24/7. And I think we’ll be sick of it.

Instead I think we will just want to meet each other. If you ask people what they are missing the most right now, I’m sure most of them will say exactly that. They will talk about getting to know someone new. Going out for a coffee. Catching up over a pint. Playing football with friends on a Sunday morning.

Or just giving someone a hug.

When all of this is over I think we will enjoy every second we spend together. We will stay in the present, listening carefully to each other. And we will come to understand what life is really all about: family, love, and the kind of friends who allow you to be who you are.