Too many disappeared, often without a final farewell
If we still lived in a time when things had a meaning, in oral narratives this Covid-19 period would be called “the year when heaven wiped out old people”. The narrator would say that it “made them disappear, both alive and dead.” I would have liked to have lived in those days, when moral values still existed and an old man was still seen as a reference point, respected for his valuable memories. Today, an old man is just a hindrance. He is useful only because of his pension and when he looks after his grandchildren, who often consider him as an extremely boring person whose tales of soldiers, hunger and struggles distract them from their computer space battles. Luckily for them, the Coronavirus arrived and took a large part of the older generation of the twentieth century, those who were born in the 1930s and 1940s.
Those who would have died anyway, sooner or later, but not at the hands of a fury that erupted in a fierce and yet quiet way, as subtle as a terrible natural disaster, and not under the care of a necessarily cynical apparatus that cannot cure them because they do not know what to do, how to do it, when to do it and even if it is actually useful to do something; an apparatus that was taken by surprise by this unexpected evil, which completely floored even those experts who seemed to have developed dozens of theories about what to do. In addition, the infected multiplied. What to do? So, the generation of the twentieth century disappeared. I say “disappeared” not in order to avoid saying “dead”, but because they actually disappeared, in an eternal nothing, without a tender gesture, without a friendly presence or a last memory-laden glance.
Their heart-breaking agony in the intensive care unit, without the comfort of their loved ones
Nonsense, you say, they would have died just the same. However, you tell this only because you are healthy, and among friends, and because you are young. But, you know, I am old. I was mildly but significantly imprinted by war and death, by a post-war period that was characterized by hunger and desperate commitment. I have known them, I know what they kept inside, in tragic silence, in desperate abandon, in an extreme desire to continue living in order to say farewell, to leave, at least, one last memory. The story of the mass disappearance of this generation could have been written by Edgard Allan Poe, a writer of horror stories only a few people know, today. I have been told about this heart-breaking death that painfully scorches the soul day after day by those who experienced and escaped it, as well as by ambulance nurses, doctors, porters, even “cashiers”.
I invite you to try and experience with me the cursed, but seemingly trivial, witchcraft of the disappearance of an old man. A wordless odyssey. The person falls ill, so his relatives call the doctor, who in turn calls the ambulance. The patient, confused and oppressed by respiratory distress, but aware of the disease, seeks with his eyes the help of his loved ones, who suffer by his side. But it is just a moment. It is in that instant that he begins to disappear, hidden behind an oxygen mask that compresses his face and deforms images. He fades away in the ambulance, dazed by the mask, the alarm and anxiety. He listens dimly and answers vaguely. Once he is in the hospital, he falls unconscious from time to time and cannot understand what people say around him; his hearing is not that good any more and everyone speak under their breath. Like in church.
Then, again, questions. When? How? Where? He does not know, he does not know. Stretchers, corridors, the porter who stops to talk to a colleague; he can hardly read “farewell” on the door, and then the ward. Pain oppresses him; the machine he is connected to sighs, complains, traces a greenish sign of life. He tries to talk with it, but they do not understand each other or, perhaps, he does not talk at all, although he thinks he is doing it. Time seems to stand still; breathing gets more and more difficult, it is pain, only pain, and effort to find air. He will die like that, wondering where his only daughter is; he has a flashback of the birth of his grandson. He must be there, too. But where? Each breath aches; his chest aches; loneliness becomes a scary pit into which he thinks he had fallen, as if they had already buried him. Of course, his daughter will not arrive. Suffocating, he says that pain is unbearable; he asks them to anesthetize him, but not before his daughter has arrived. He dies, his chest ferociously constricted. He dies striving to take a last breath and exhausts himself in a cry. His last one.
A relentless and cynical mechanism. In the end, nothing is left except for an urn with ashes
Then, everything is fast. He has to disappear quickly from the ward, from the corridors, from the elevator that takes him down, more and more down, where he is laid with other corpses. But he does not care about all this anymore. He does not know that they put him in a crate, that they took him to a crematorium. Then, at the end, he will be finally home, in a ceramic bowl, a memory of a stolen generation. It is not the death of a whole generation that upsets me, it is their disappearance, the necessarily cynical mechanism with which these people turned into ashes, with their relatives knowing what happened only afterwards; people who disappeared without neither memories nor a pitiful gesture: the long grey column of the old people who represented a particular moment of our country runs in the memory.
They were the ones who rebuilt Italy; those who worked in construction yards in the middle of fields that were becoming cities; those who ate a dish of cold pasta and then worked ten hours in a row to kick-start our economy, which had been wiped out by the war; those who strived to invent and develop the economic miracle that turned Italy into the seventh industrial power, which made the new generations study, even though many of them did not do it. And, yet, they were books; you only had to listen to them and it was like reading Pratolini or Emilio Cecchi. They told about the things they had lived – they did not read or interpret other people’s experiences.
They knew the truths. It was with fascination that I listened to their opinions on some books; they were more correct than those of many militant critics who often speak for their publishers. They had the practicality that is typical of self-made men; they believed in the party, whatever it was, almost to the last. Now, they have become a number – How many dead people today? Three hundred and twenty, and almost the all of them were old. There is one thing that deeply distresses me; I’d like to know if, at the end of their lives, these creatures have been sedated, because to die by suffocation is horrible.
I know it all to well, as I almost did the same, too; luckily, an excellent medical team saved me, exactly a month before the Coronavirus appeared. However, my wife was by my side, every day, and all I needed was looking at her. It was also thanks to her that I did not die: she was there and was the life that those old boys missed. In the name of these creatures; these books of memories; these rich stories that ended up in fire; these hundreds and hundreds of people who horribly disappeared in old age homes – kept there as germs in Petri’s capsules, to multiply the disease, witnesses of a world that developed and headed towards general well-being until it had to resort to mass cremation. Here is how to say it: in the name of these faceless and nameless dead people, I would like that the President of the Republic – who, too, is no longer a young man – dedicate one day of the year to the old unknown who died as a number.
A living book that was erased by fire. History always repeats itself.