On the drive home from work I was listening to All Things Considered on the radio. Eleanor Beardsley was reporting from a small microphone, panting slightly as she walked a half mile into one of the towns in Central Italy that has been devastated by the earthquake and aftershocks this week. She notes the silence of her surroundings, and then you hear a guard in the distance telling her to turn around and leave. There is no one there. The town is gone. Everyone has left but this guard, and the buried.
As I was listening, I started crying. Whole towns are gone. Whole families. Whole histories. I tend to take a long view when I think of life, of the tiny little blip we are in time. It’s almost like that motion sick feeling you can get when you zoom in and out quickly in Google Earth – I prefer to hover a bit where I don’t get too attached. I could picture this region in the long view, visualize the area affected in the center of the country. I lived in that country and studied its history. We walked on the current streets of cities like Assisi, and then walked the ancient streets of that city underground – the foundation of the current one. There are layers upon layers of civilization there, a civilization that is still just a blip in the long view of time. I remember seeing the damage done to that city by an earthquake just after I left; I can’t imagine how much damage this current earthquake has done to similar towns.
I had the privilege to live and walk on so many of those streets, the gift of time to get outside of the famous cities and sit still in the smallest of places. So many of the best hours of my entire life have been spent on ancient stone steps, sketchbook and pen in hand, watching the people move about their day, greeting one another in the street, carrying food home for dinner, sitting at outdoor tables with a glass of wine and the paper, lighting candles just inside the open doors of churches. I stayed in little hotels, small flats, and even tinier rooms as I worked my way across the entire region.
There is devastation all around us; it’s nothing new. But this feels like sacred space to me. I left a piece of my heart in that country, and it’s broken this week.