War is a word of the last century
A few days ago my twenty-one year old son asked me point-blank: << Mom but if somone refuses to leave for the war is he considered a deserter?>>. The war in Ukraine has just begun but the question, I don’t know why, takes me by surprise. While I try to answer something reassuring I realize that I feel helpless and inadequate, as if I had not considered, until that moment, that yes he is “only” twenty-one years old, but the images and news that arrive like meteorites in our homes frighten him, anguish him. After the Second World War, after all, there were and there are war conflicts in the world, even terrible and devastating, yet this suddenly involves us deeply, tears like lightning our daily European universe in which the word “war” seemed very far away, something now to be studied only in history books.
The next day I enter school, in a ninth grade, I decide to talk about it with my students because I feel a very strong need to understand something that I have not seen or that I have missed. It is as if the incomprehensible idea of war prevents me from considering it a real option or from understanding how much it can “weigh” on teenagers, especially after two years of pandemic that has already put everyone to the test. The students immediately respond to my request to reflect together, some make silly jokes, almost to remove the issue, others, on the other hand, are very informed, they tell me that they talk about it in family, that they try to understand the complexity of what is happening but , above all, they are well aware of the risk of a sudden degeneration of the situation and for this they are worried. They also ask me how the conscription and military obligation works in case of conflict on Italian territory, they tell stories of friends or acquaintances residing in Ukraine.
While listening to them it cames to my mind “War”, the beautiful letter by Ilaria Serpi published in Papillon on February 25 and I also wonder when I was “distracted”, when I did not find the meaning of the word “destruction” to be able to share it with my children, with my students, with all the people I love.
Yet “my boys” are reminding me where to find the words, with their already adult looks, with their simple beauty when they tell me <<War sucks !>>, with their pressing youth who naturally knows how to make a clear rejection, without ifs and buts, because they “feel” the inhumanity of the images and news that arrive. Then comes back overbearing the courage of a long history, of a long research that gave me new words that speak of humanity, warmth, beauty, intelligence and how it can happen to lose these words but also of how determined one can be to find them again. Ilaria is right, “war” is an ancient word, from the last century and perhaps today what I can do in my small way is to tell the words I met, that I lived and maybe propose that we should all be “deserters” … in gestures, in thoughts, in the courageous and continuous struggle to build a new idea of the world….