“To the living we owe respect… but to the dead
we owe only the truth.” – Voltaire
A giant Tower Bell above the Cathedral starts to ring.
“Where the hell are you?”
And keeps ringing throughout the old city.
“I’m just about to walk in.”
“Well hurry up… I’m ten rows in from the front on the left. And damn well be quiet because the Priest is ready to start.”
The inside of the ancient Church goes silent… a pin could drop and everyone would hear it.
But that giant Tower Bell keeps ringing.
A few start to reach for their handkerchiefs like they must.
The Bell suddenly stops.
The Organist begins to play… slowly… to really sad faces wherever you look.
“Excuse me… pardon me.” “Finally.” Sitting down, “Traffic was awful.”
“What traffic?”, whispering, “the city is shut down!”
The Organist picks up the pace… echoing the forthcoming drama. The Priest leaves his prayer post at the far corner, and walks slowly towards the main podium at the centre of the stage. Handkerchiefs are now everywhere despite the masks… this city, this region, this entire country has been traumatized. “We lost 179 Angels during this awful plague that has been cast upon us”, staring at the heavens, “cast upon us to test our faith in each other and in the great Almighty.” The Priest pauses… then looks over… right through one of the ornate stain-glass windows that continues so high.
The crying fills the Cathedral as he does.
“Only the great Almighty can understand why Angels who were committed to the healing of anybody and everybody that walked through their doors would have to pay such a price.” Despair cannot be avoided in this awesome five-storey Church built over six-hundred years ago… on any other day this glorious workmanship would only uplift.
“This Community is hurting so much… nobody saw this coming.”
Today it is only absorbing the brokenness of an entire region.
The organ starts-up again.
The Priest takes another step back from the podium… and wipes away his tears.
The Organist begins to play louder… as if he knows that he needs to drown out the congregation. The massive room is absorbing it all, every seat on both levels is taken, every candle is lit and is burning as a sign of mourning. Three thousand People have never filled this ‘Church on the hill’ since the perils of World War Two made everyone a believer; trauma is the lubricant for faith.
“We must remember these Angels forever. We must act with that remembrance in our hearts. We must look out for each other as of this second… because if we don’t we have no chance of surviving from not only this pandemic, but from life itself.”
The Organist seems to know when to pick up the notes and when to play in the background. “Life can only be as successful as the community we live in. We have been selfish for far too long, full of the ungodly notion that if we assemble the most material possessions than we have achieved some kind of success.” The Priest scans the room… moving his head with purpose from side to side.
Again taking his time.
In the religion business this is called ‘Spiritual Leader Drama’.
And is never to be taken lightly when trying to shift from the me me me to the we we we. “Man lives in the present… while only God can plan into the future with any kind of accuracy.”
This Congregation looks to be accepting their responsibility for this past attitude.
“We have been arrogant to the flood… to the flood that always comes!”
Which was not the case only ten weeks ago.
“This is not a lesson from an angry Parent to a disrespectful child… no it is not. This is love, as hard as that is to believe… love from a Parent who only wants the best for their children.” The Organist joins in with purpose. The crowd is now really weeping with their masks on. The outside speakers address a standing-only crowd that is also weeping with their masks on. Dr. Silvio Genovese and his older sister Marina are taking it all in from inside the Cathedral… ten rows from the front on the left… allowing themselves for the first time to really let loose… to really release all that pent-up sadness they’ve witnessed at St. Antonella’s General Hospital in Bergamo – ground zero for this growing pandemic in the western world. Father Gianni Bartolini and his serious posture turns… and walks back to his prayer post at the far corner. The Cathedral is full of sadness but also shock… ten weeks ago no one had ever heard of Personal Protection Equipment, and had no idea that not one hospital throughout the Lombardy region had any adequate inventory of the stuff!
The Lombardy region is a Medici-era dream of the most eye-warming beauty… if a husband and wife needed a holiday to celebrate any type of anniversary… any type of rekindling of any type of flame from being overworked and overstressed in this increasingly frenetic world – the capital of Bergamo could fit the bill quite easily. Hollywood loves it here… Lake Como romanced Gentleman George Clooney and all his Pals. Fifty kilometers northeast from the classic treasure of Milan, with her twisting and turning cobblestone streets that expose one too many quaint espresso shops that most certainly validate why coffee was invented in the first place. An Alpine region of snow-capped beauty that dates back to 49 B.C., the Piazza Vecchia, the Cathedral di Bergamo e Battisero… and of course the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore can make anyone feel like the artistic hefts of the Roman Empire are still ongoing. No hustle bustle except in the midst of tourist season – this city of a little over 100,000 nestles 500 meters above sea level – but perfection means nothing to this Plague.
“You going back to the hospital?”
The congregation files out of the Bergamo Cathedral in long straight lines… pew by pew… Italians are never this orderly. “My shift starts in an hour.”
“How many code reds today?” “150.”
“My God.” “Last week there were 350 each day.”
Only a once-in-a-century trauma can create such order for this city’s ancient streets.
“Dario said the lockdown is going to stay for another month at least.”
“Have you spoken to Mama?”
“This morning when I got up, she told me to light a candle for Papa.”
Brother and Sister stare at each other… these two dedicated Doctors have no answers for what they have witnessed… only fear. “The Medical Board is having a zoom call with the WHO Reps at two.” “You going to be there?” “Can’t… too many patients to keep an eye on. And I’m not exactly thrilled with the suits of our profession these days.”
“I hear that.”
Bells start to ring from a Cathedral well in the distance.
“You arrange for Mama’s groceries to be delivered today?”
“Tomorrow morning is the earliest they can get there.”
Helplessness grips both Silvio and Marina Genovese… two loving children who adore their Parents; Papa Mario died in Marina’s arms on day 24 of this chaos. Back in the heat of it Bergamo’s hospitals had 16 hour wait times in the ER… if you could even get to the hospital at all. Ambulances were backed up 6 hours no matter if you lived around the block. At one point the hospital had 92 people on ventilators… compared to 3 or 4 when life was ‘normal’. Oxygen needed to be brought in from emergency tanks that just kept coming in and coming in from huge flatbed trucks – that beeping sound aimed for the loading dock seemed to be going on every minute of the day. At one point the Government estimated that their antibody testing showed that one-quarter of Bergamo Province’s 1.1 million people had contracted the virus. Canaries in the coal mine.
And then the refrigerated trailers started to arrive… and kept on arriving.
“You have time now? I’m going over to see her.”
“I have to get back to relieve Luca and Dario.” Walking up to the window. “Posso avere due caffè espresso per favore.” “Lungo o Corto?” “Lungo.” “You should come over after… Mama misses you.” Healers need to help their patients or else the world does not make sense.
“I’ll try.” Marina looks at her brother. “Ok ok… I’ll be there for seven.” “Good”, touching his shoulder with love. She knows how this has affected her little brother. Leaning-in for their steaming espressos… these two then turn into the social-distancing streets of their fellow country people.
Those Bells in the distance keep ringing.
Trauma has defeated beauty.