Updated on April 4th, 2020
On my short walks, I often pass the cemetery. My dad is buried here. I greet him as I walk past on the gravel path that runs alongside it, so straight it could have been drawn with a giant ruler. I step across a narrow patch of stubbly grass, duck under the low branches of a lime tree. On the cemetery car park, I look down onto the pavement. There’s a spot where it’s cracked into the shape of a heart…
A few days ago we learnt that a friend of my mother’s passed away. This friend too might find her resting place in this cemetery. But we don’t know. Funerals, these days, are solitary, private events.
It has been a while since I’ve seen my mother cry. Grown up in the Second World War, she’s got plenty of strength and resilience. She’s private about her feelings. She’s a happy, sunny character, too. The surge of my own shock and sadness is searing my chest – I don’t know if I’m feeling for my mum or her friend or both.
My mum is choking with tears. I take the phone which she is handing me, to carry on speaking, on her behalf, to the friend who’s called with the bad news, and is mortified about having upset my mum. My heart finds a calmer, steadier rhythm; I am able to speak. And to be a gentle presence with my mum when I come off the phone.
Our own brush with loss and death is amplified a thousand-fold across the Alps, in Italy, where our wider family live. My cousin has been housebound with her family for a month. On the phone, she shares that she feels like she’s living in a surreal, safe bubble, while in Bergamo, not twenty kilometres away, people are still dying by the hundreds each day. Alone. They are taken away by convoys of army trucks, to crematoriums and cemeteries further afield, as the local ones are full. The Corona Virus, there, is real. So is the tension in my cousin’s voice, in her body, in her life.
There is nothing I can say that can make this good – ever.
So I just listen. And share my own experiences where they resonate.
In my mum’s living room, we keep a candle lit for her friend who passed. I’ve come to see it as a candle for everybody who passed, and everybody who lost someone, everywhere in the world. For in our loss and in our pain, in our challenge and in our fight, in our suffering and in our fear, we are one.
Also, I need to remind myself that light is most effective in darkness. (This notion is from The Master Shift. I love it.)
Love is the answer, someone once said to me. I keep coming back to this, surrendering deeper and deeper into the truth of it.
Love is in every gesture I perform as I care for my mother. It’s in every ingredient I stir into the meals I cook. It’s in every word I type into the posts on this blog. Love is in every phone call with friends who check in on us to see if we’re ok, or that we call, to have their news.
In his recent address to the nation, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte spoke about (and I paraphrase) how we must never forget that behind each of the numbers so ubiquitously reported these days, of new infections and deaths, is a human being. A person with a family, with a story, with a life lived for themselves and for others. We must never forget that it’s human beings first and foremost, that he the Prime Minister, the Government, and all of us must work together to honour and to save. Before the economy.
There’s love in these words, too, and compassion for people’s suffering. Acknowledgement of our humanity. An assertion that our lives are precious. And a deep respect for human life, no matter of what age.
I am grateful that Italy has a leader who feels like he is a man of integrity. Intelligent, level-headed, calm, practical and quietly, appropriately passionate, he also knows how to speak to Italy’s people from a genuine place, in a language that is clear AND permeated with love and compassion.
For love is what fuels us, nourishes us, makes this crisis and all that is happening to us bearable.
No, it’s more than that: Love makes our being in this crisis meaningful.
Love opens us to boundless compassion, no matter what. Love helps us find our strength and courage, so we can rise above our fear and get ourselves and others through this.
Love, evidently, cracks the concrete pavement of cemetery parking lots, too!
So me, I’m working on opening my heart every single day…
Previous post in the series: Everyday stories, up and down
Next post in the series: Every day a new beginning
Photo: Monica Castenetto