Solomeo, 27 May 2022
I have come to understand, over time – when old things become golden and new ones involve us so closely that sometimes they almost don't let us breathe – the meaning of the word and the role of "father".
For me, in my youthful years, my father was the silent, sober, courageous and good-natured man who, while he went about his daily life in his role within the small family farm, was in fact my trusted guide and constant benchmark, although I did not yet realise it.
I did not know it, but in those years during which I was forging my future, every firm concept of action towards the family, towards Creation and towards people was slowly being shaped and drew its deepest motives from this very man.
My father Umberto's attitude towards pain was always courageous and silent, and I think of his relationship with the war he had fought, about which he never spoke, not of blood, not of death, but he did remember the humane episodes, the ones that can occur even in the toughest moments, such as when, plagued by thirst, deprived of any sustenance, together with other comrades, he was forced to drink water from a puddle in which horses had urinated; and only rarely, because of an old pain in his shoulder, did he recall the heavy bombs he had carried on his back many and many times over. The bombs, he had heard so many of them exploding, but he had not seen any, just as he had not seen the blood and the wounds, nor the deaths, or at least that was how he liked to remember it.
The most important lessons for my upbringing and future worldview came in the most beautiful time, the time of our life as farmers. Going back to that time that today seems enchanted to me, those boundless, blue skies where the ever-cheerful clouds chased each other in a thousand shapes from one side of the horizon to the other, above the mountains blackened with forests and the meadows glazed with flowers, today I think that my father was so strong because the laws of nature echoed in him: nature had formed and nurtured him. It is true that, according to the customs of the time, my father was not in the habit of taking me in his arms or caressing me, nor did he concern himself with my school life; for these things there was my mother, and how often, in the evening, weary from so much work, having tidied up the kitchen after dinner, she would devote herself with caring affection to me, to my studies: what a beautiful memory that of the Nibelungen, the work that I had to memorize and that she patiently read and reread to me, and in my imagination, which had reached new heights from tiredness and the fire burning in the fireplace, I thought I was one of those heroes! These were the roles: maternal affection on the one hand, paternal wisdom on the other, made of experience and practicality.
In this country life, now so distant, I learned from my father the value and meaning of accuracy, his first great lesson, an accuracy that led to good results and generated beauty. When it was ploughing time, it was my job to pull the oxen; it was not easy to keep them always in the straight furrow, but most of the time I succeeded, and my father always appreciated my work and complimented me on my dexterity. And if I asked him why the grooves had to be straight, he would say: "because they look better that way!" I have never forgotten this togetherness, the things that experience proved true even if reason could not explain them, as I still see today in everything I do.
A second lesson I received as a gift from my father was that of the value of human life, when one goes out of their way to save it; and I remember his night horse-ride, a headlong rush to the distant pharmacy to get a medicine that did arrive in time, but in vain, and did nothing to save the young life of a child. That evening the moon seemed to have stayed on waiting for just that; the night was cool and immutably bright, and how this stillness contrasted with the grief experienced by my whole family! That hopeful ride of his was the image of a fearless hero, he said it was the ride of his life, and today for me it is the symbol of love for people, a love that knows no hindrance, has no doubts about how to act and knows how to defy the impossible to save a human life. And I always remember my father standing upright on our one, beautiful horse: he looked like a giant to me seen from below, and the horse's muzzle lowered to sniff me out!
The outskirts of Perugia, where we later moved to, was the place of another great lesson, that of respect for human dignity, and this time too it came from actions and not from words, from example and not from command. It was my father's tearful eyes in particular that conveyed and carved this third lesson deeply into my soul; it was the way he reacted to the unjust offence that he had received at work. Those were the years when many farmers, and we among them, left the countryside for the city, dreaming of a better future. And we, too, became city-dwellers, with many reasons for a new prosperity, and many reasons also for a lost wealth, that of a free life in the open air, in continuous conversation with nature, simple but always generous, without any luxury but also without deprivation, because even if we did not have electricity, food was never missing, and in its simplicity it was the best. The dignity with which my father suffered offence was equal to that of every human person, the dignity that we must respect in all our fellow human beings, without any distinction. When I went through that experience I suffered silently, but in time that pain, as St Augustine puts it, was my teacher, and taught me the great secret of always trying to be just, moderate and respectful of the human being.
In his older years, my relationship with my father slowly began to become different, the roles changed, so when the time came for me to choose a job, and I told him that I had decided to pursue a career as a small cashmere artisan, "I don't know what cashmere is and I don't know what pullovers are," he told me with stern simplicity, "but always remember to be a good man: may God bless you and protect you".John Ruskin was able to poetically express the meaning of the father to son relationship, a value that lies in the word and gesture: "our fathers told us". His word, my father's word, which began to flow with his old age, I always looked for it until his last days, talking, listening to the stories, holding his hand, and finally his word disappeared with his death, leaving me alone for the first time, because one is always helpless when faced with the passing away of one's parents. On the day my father died, everything was like any other day; everyone was going about their own business, and nature itself, which had accompanied him along all of his long years, did not know that she would soon welcome him in her motherly arms. He left in silence as I held his hand, and I thought then that if something ended now, a new way of being together could be born, a spiritual dialogue like the one I have had for many years now with my mother, who had passed away several years before. And so I wrote him a letter: «Dear Dad, you have left us today. You have chosen a sweet April day, just a few days before Easter and having just completed your hundred years of earthly experience. It almost seems as if you wanted to ease the pain of the departure of your physical being by waiting for the moment when spirits are lighter, now that the swallows have returned and new life is sprouting in all the countryside you loved. I am standing by you, here, now, beside your bed, silently talking to you in the same way as I did years ago with dear Mama, reminiscing, thinking about your new spiritual life, since for us Christians, death is the Dies Natalis, the day on which we are reborn before the Lord. All my childhood years, as a farmer, the years of your enduring silent courage, of your strength, of your love for us all, you were always with me; your praise, so important, like when I was able to keep the oxen in the straight line of the furrows; then our move to the city, with so many new things and so many things lost, beautiful things but also painful things, like the pain of the offences you received unjustly, which I read in your tearful eyes and which I will never forget, because that look became the guide of my life. Finally, the beautiful years in our beloved Solomeo, and every single day, leaving home, I would come and see you, even for a few minutes, but always, to receive some encouragement from you, a source of courage and hope. Dear Father, your human wisdom was always with me: at all times you knew the right words for the things I had to learn, with thoughtful care, so attentive to what was happening to me, because for you, even as an adult, like any child for any loving parent, I was always a little child in need of guidance. And an invaluable guide was, over time, your example of a prudent and realistic life, trusting in people and in the immense generosity of Creation. Not now, that your voice has died out, but always, over the years, I have entrusted my choices as a husband, father and entrepreneur to your wisdom. If I with my birth gave you the joy of life, you today, with the end of yours, give me the mystery of death. From today you and I will continue to speak in a new way, no longer here, perhaps among the golden wheat, or under the stars, and I will choose one of the brightest, and that star will be you for me».
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