Giving thanks to those who show us the gift of life
“They have killed Turiddu!” Thus ends Mascagni’s famous “Cavalleria Rusticana”. The plot of the Cavalleria Rusticana interests me: my maternal grandfather was, in fact, called Turiddu.
Turiddu isn’t a common name in the area I grew up, the countryside surrounding the Vicenza Berici Mountains, an expanse of fertile farmland, factories and 16th-Century Palladian villas where Venetian nobles once came to spend their holidays. Indeed, I would add that my grandfather’s name is unique. I don’t think other Vicentines have ever had a similar name, and if there were, I’d be quite happy to meet them.
In Sicilian, “Turiddu” is the diminutive of “Tore”, that is, “Salvatore” (Saviour). Turiddu is the protagonist of Mascagni’s dramatic opera. My great-grandmother named her son Turiddu after seeing and falling in love with the Cavalleria Rusticana while pregnant (there is no connection, on the other hand, between my grandfather’s name and the bandit Salvatore Giuliano!). As a child, I was always intrigued by my grandfather, a man intriguing not only in name.
He was an esteemed merchant from Lonigo, the village where he lived, where he owned a small supermarket. His unusual name helped him grow his business, as it happened that people who didn’t know him thought he was a southerner. This created, at first, an aura of enigmatic suspense around him. He naturally used this … From the stories that have been passed down to me, he was a truly wonderful person, well-loved and generous with everyone. He helped many people through his work.
Unfortunately, I only got to know him as an elderly man, paralysed by a stroke that had deprived him of many of his mental faculties. He was like a child, needing to be taken care of. Despite his condition, he had become deeply attached to me, the youngest of four brothers. In his own way, he loved me very dearly.
He loved to paint using tempera. His paintings filled the homes of relatives and friends. In this way, he transmitted his love of beauty to me, a love which I today cultivate in my passion for music, through the sound of the violin. I’d like to think – a thought, perhaps, not so distant from reality – that his love of art, in addition to the love of those who took care of him, was what allowed him to survive ten more years following his stroke, and was therefore what give me the chance to know him in person. Getting to know my disabled grandfather while a child was a very important human experience that marked me deeply. My grandfather died when I was about 11 years old.
To me, Turiddu is a saviour in name and in fact. He helped me recognize that life is a wonderful gift that must be savoured to the fullest, even when difficult. The last leg of Turiddu’s life was certainly no walk in the park. Remembering him, his drawings and the time I spent with him is, for me, a spiritual exercise that acts as a kind of antidote against any discouragement I may feel. When everything appears crooked, or life doesn’t live up to expectations leaving me disappointed (thoughts that may occur to any man or woman), thinking about Turiddu helps me to change the way I look at things, leading me to recognize the deep value there is in beauty even when events and negativity try to take me elsewhere. This allows me, in short, to live in truth, because I can realistically value all that I am and all that I have beyond the limits that I possess or encounter.
That’s why I consider the story of Turiddu a parable in the evangelical sense of the term, as good news for me. All those who, in some way, help us in dark and difficult moments to perceive life as gift are saviours. All of us have saviours, if we look closely at the story of our lives. In an act such us this do we find the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Of course, we must pay close attention since, as He Himself reminds us, the Kingdom of Heaven is hidden from those who are proud and who believe they have all the answers, but visible to those who, with a poor heart, contemplate the gift of life without too many complicated mental gymnastics. This is a continuous journey, of course, but the Lord does not tire of accompanying us, going so far as to put others in our path, people who can help us change the way we look at things and similarly – why not? – transform us into saviours for others. Our tombs, like that ancient tomb two thousand years ago, are now empty. Death has been defeated, and life is gifted back to us, redeemed.
(This is the famous “Symphonic Interlude” of the “Cavalleria Rusticana”, which has gone down in history as a musical page of rare beauty, often performed as an encore by the orchestra. It conveys the sense of the gift to me.)
Translated from Italian by Andrew Camilleri, SJ