Some days ago, my wife and I travelled to Siena, where we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the city. In the evening, thanks to the invitation of Archbishop Paolo Lojudice, we were “overwhelmed” by a different kind of beauty. Don Paolo took us to Arbia, a few kilometres from Siena, to a family shelter. It is run by Maria and Paolo, who, with simplicity and big hearts, carry out that hidden kindness which makes the entire world flourish and progress, because, as Tolkien intuited, “what is really important is always hid from contemporaries, and the seeds of what is to be are quietly germinating in the dark in some forgotten corner”.
In this forgotten corner of Siena’s countryside, we met five families of asylum-seekers, of refugees, migrants, and margin-alised people: society’s last ones, who are usually cared for by society’s “second to last”. And there we saw again, because the whole world has “seen” him, little Mustafa. He is the six-year-old Syrian boy who was born without arms or legs due to the use of phosphorous bombs in that forgotten war which still continues today. He was immortalised as he was being lifted up by his father (who is also missing a leg, amputated after a “normal” bomb explosion) in a photograph that circulated the world some months ago and was declared “photo of the year” [at the Siena International Photo Awards in 2021].
Seeing Mustafa in a picture is one thing. Meeting him in person is quite another. When we arrived, he was intently playing a video-game on a tablet, using his “finger” to click and win. He looked up at us, and, laughing, exclaimed in perfect Italian, “Ciao a tutti!” (Hello, everyone!). Mustafa laughs often, and he’s never still. We saw him go up and down some stairs (I still don’t understand how; his body is a powerful bundle of muscles). We saw him get on a skateboard and delightedly zoom around the room. We saw him — rather, my wife saw him (women have a more attentive gaze) — use his head to rock his little sister’s cradle. Barely one month old, she was named Maria after the woman who runs the shelter.
We returned home happily moved by all this vitality and, in some way, prompted to reflect.
I thought of that beautiful book, “White on Black”, by Ruben Gallego, an author who was born with conditions that are more or less like Mustafa’s. In his story, he wrote about “the strength that each one of us has inside. The strength that breaks through all barriers and leads to triumph”, because, he continued, “I am convinced that on humanity’s scale a child’s delight in a new toy vastly outweighs any military victory. This is a book about my childhood. Cruel and terrible though it was, it was still my childhood. It doesn’t take much for a child to retain his love for the world, grow up and mature: a bite of lard, a salami sandwich, a handful of figs, a blue sky, a couple of books and a kind word. That’s enough — more than enough”. Ruben with his book, and Mustafa with his smile write “white on black”. They use light to defeat darkness.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer”. These words of Albert Camus inspired the following verses, which need no commentary, other than to highlight that what matters here are the first two words of the poem. Everything starts there:
In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.