28th August, 2016
There’s a sense of freedom one associates with summer, starting in childhood when the last bell of the school term heralded weeks of play, not to mention liberation from school uniform and all the pressure of learning. If one was lucky there might be a family holiday complete with an ice cream every day. But mainly it was day after endless day of play during which one learned all that can never be taught
Now, summer feels tired. The garden is tired, the farmers are tired and so are we. An ongoing heat wave imprisons us for hours in the cool of our stone house – for which we are grateful – and one feels cheated. More than that, there is an underlying threat of violence; the violence of nature. Whether it is Zika courtesy of a mosquito, or Lyme’s Disease via a tick, or the ground opening up beneath one’s feet.
On Wednesday morning we woke up to the news that an earthquake had disappeared people and towns and history and beauty, some 70 miles from us. The whole country has been sad for days. As if we didn’t already feel sad and frightened from all the global politics and terrorism, mother nature drives it home with an earthquake. Suddenly we feel betrayed by the one thing we foolishly believe will always be a source of comfort and, yes, freedom.
Summer, for many of us, equals nature; swimming in ponds and seas, riding bikes or ponies along lanes, throwing a Frisbee in the park, listening to the last birdsong of the evening floating through the bedroom window as we drift into sleep. That nature can obliterate us in the night, without forewarning, is to be reminded that nature can be a mean mother.
We had appointments and errands in Siena on Wednesday. Even on the hottest day it’s narrow medieval streets provide shade. But on this day the shade provided no solace. A shadow has been cast upon the land. There is something about this tragedy that carries the inevitable with it. Italy is basically a long, narrow peninsula whose spine is weak, flanked as it is by 2 major fault lines making it the most seismic prone country in Europe. We live outside the earthquake zone and because we are on elevated ground outside of the village, we are also outside of the flood zone. The village however, is not and has suffered 2 major floods in the last 4 years, the first of which knocked out 2 bridges and upheaved roads, the waters rushing through the streets and up through shops and houses to a level of 4 feet. As I’ve said before, there is no such thing as safety.
Yet just as crisis carries the possibility of opportunity, so tragedy provides the opportunity to express kindness and generosity. Our town, along with almost every other one in this country, mobilized a donation center immediately. Ours is a small , working class town struggling to survive its bankrupt government. Yet there we all were on Thursday and Friday, lining up with our bags of clothes and blankets, toiletries and cleaning supplies. Young and old working side by side; organizing, boxing, labeling, many of us weeping. On Saturday volunteers trucked the supplies directly to the victims.
Every nation, when a crisis hits it, likes to think it is the most generous, the most courageous, the most organized. It’s a shame we have to claim national ownership of such human attributes. Whether it is impoverished Greeks helping refugees out of boats or refugees helping Italian victims of an earthquake, we are all capable of stepping up to the plate. As much as Mother Nature takes, she also gives. For we, after all, are nature too; each of us struggling to make it through another day, another heat wave, another random act of violence.
Who knows why some of us have an easier time of it than others? Who knows why this rosebush is dying from the heat.
While 3 feet away, this tiny thing clings to a stone wall, optimistically growing roots that have no hope of reaching earth. Perhaps it’s investing in the future should the day arrive that a strong wind displaces it, carrying it back to the earth.