We have been having earthquakes in Northern Italy. Normally an earthquake doesn’t shake me up too much; living in California will toughen one up that way. Thunder and lightning frighten me more. But when they are long and keep coming, well, then, you can’t help be reminded of how silly it is to think we have much of a hold on anything. Nothing really stands still, does it?
This morning there was a big one but I was swimming and did not feel a thing. My instructor made me get out of the pool and I asked why. Then we all stood around for a few minutes, watching the giant lights overhead swing back and forth, and of course I thought of my boys, mainly that they weren’t scared, that the teachers were calm and reassuring, that there was no panic.
In an earthquake, all you can do, really, is not panic. Stay calm and collected and hope for the best. That’s my strategy, anyway.
It turned out that the teachers took the children outside to the playground, where they all stayed for the rest of the day, until the second quake, after which the mayor told the schools to evacuate and all the parents were called to collect their children. When I arrived, the scene was idyllic. Three was sound asleep in the shade of a tree, and Seven was watching an impromptu musical theater performance on the basketball court, put on by the third graders and directed by the school music teacher, Gabriella. Now there is a woman you’d want nearby in a crisis. I’ve never seen her anything but calm and collected, and she has the loveliest singing voice.
That second one had scared me a little. It was long, just like the first big one we’d had two Sundays ago, and I was home working. I got up and stood in the doorway to my office, which is actually a passageway between two separate buildings, since my apartment occupies a bit of one and stretches out into a bit of another. So my bathroom has a different address than my bedroom, if that makes any sense. The building kept rocking, and I held on to the wall. It is over one foot thick, and to feel it sway leaves a lasting impression.
For over a week, I have been feeling small tremors and I can never decide if they are figments of my imagination, passing trucks, or aftershocks. Most likely, they are a little of each. But that one this afternoon, like the long, long one at four in the morning two Sundays ago, got to me. Those are the moments when you understand perfectly what matters to you and what makes your life good. Like stills, they boil your love down to the pure, simple, sweet stuff, and when the email arrives with the little red flag instructing you to come for your two little boys immediately, you are so glad, and not because, by the magic of a mother’s love, they might be somehow safer with you, but because you’ll see their smiles and hear their voices, smell their sweaty boys smells and hold their sticky, dirt-encrusted hands in yours all the sooner.