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Of the flesh and of the spirit

“This evening I learned that you were there: a drop of life fallen from the void”. This is the famous incipit of one of the most beautiful songs about motherhood  that has ever been written in recent centuries. The book begins with a rejection (like a thief you stole into me and robbed me of my stomach, my blood, my breath; you now want to rob me of my whole life”), with the wish to distance a certain minuscule but disruptive presence that can throw a woman into a well where all is “uncertain and terrifying”.

Yet line after line,  the lay Florentine journalist's closure to bearing the child has the strength and courage to be transformed and thus the lament becomes a song of love.

A mother is not only the one who gives birth to a child. A mother is also the woman who feeds, welcomes, cradles, soothes, helps and supports any child. Thus a mother is any woman who assumes responsibility for her neighbour in the unconditional openness that seeks no compensation. Drying tears, encouraging success, alleviating injuries, celebrating beauty, running after little legs that she fears might stumble: gestation and nurturing are also – or perhaps above all – characteristic of the spirit. They are the ability to notice and in this way to make room for the overwhelming force that can transfigure all things.

At the feet of Mary by Isabella  Ducrot, beside Oriana Fallaci and her splendid L etter to a Child Never Born , let us also lay the words of a young Dutch Jewish girl who died in Auschwitz on 30 November 1943.

In the pages she bequeathed to us, Etty Hillesum recounts a silent and stupefying inner journey. It starts with a girl bewildered and wrapped up in herself. Ten months later, on 12 October 1942, she wrote from the Camp of Westerbork: “I have broken my body like bread and shared it out among men. And why not, they were hungry and had gone without for so long”. This radical transformation – which happened in very few months – was prompted solely by the deep desire to enter into communion with God and with her neighbour. What else could it be other than motherhood?

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