My memory of Valentine’s Day is spending it among the art treasures and history of St. Valentine’s birthplace, Terni, in central Italy. It was just a few months after our seven-year-old son, Nicholas, had been shot in a botched car-jacking attempt while we were driving to Sicily on vacation. We had donated his organs and corneas to seven Italians, four of them teenagers.
The organizers of our visit wanted to honor the power of love and chose to see it in our story. The ceremony was held in a packed hall and, whenever Nicholas was mentioned, there was total, almost reverential, silence. I had come across a Valentine’s Day card he had made at pre-school, and it had seemed right to bring it to this meeting.
The card had all the awkwardness of a child trying beyond his limits. “I don’t suppose it has much artistic merit,” I said. Holding it up, my eye fell on the message: “I love you, Daddy.” I had to force myself to go on. “But to me it is now more precious than any Michelangelo.”
Terni gave us one more thing. Italy was in the aftermath of a stabbing at a soccer game. The papers were full of stories about young thugs. On the way back to Rome, we saw busloads of fans, pulled over, waiting to be frisked by the police.
As we sat down to lunch, a boisterous soccer team came in and sat nearby. I suppose we all looked over at them, once or twice, wondering about them. As they stood up to go, two of them walked over to our table. Now what?
But in their hands was a box of chocolates for Eleanor, our four-year-old daughter, and a large bunch of spring flowers for Maggie, my wife. “We will never forget you,” they said.Tags: belongings, funerals, money, grief, hope