Where have I been?
It’s been a bit too long since my last post and while I’d like to say I’ve been away setting the world to rights, I haven’t.
But I did read a book about it. It’s called La cosa piu’ importante – The Most Important Thing. And it’s all about putting the world back together.
Get in the car and drive
I just watched an inspiring Ted video about Lizzie Velasquez, one of only three women in the world to have a rare medical condition that makes her pretty thin and gives her a distinctive appearance which is disturbing for some. As I listened to her motivational speech – about how she had decided not to let cyber bullies define her by calling her the ugliest woman on earth and inviting her to put a gun to her head and pull the trigger – I thought about how people really forget about what’s important. Sometimes we just have to stop and think.
Those bullies made Lizzie stop and think (after she stopped crying, that is), and she went back to the basics. She had a great family, they had loved her from the day she was born, and they’d always taught her that she was the only one in the driving seat of her life. Don’t let others boss you around from the back seat, she said. Get behind that wheel and drive your life where you want it to go. She could do that because she had her family behind her. She had grown up with love.
A nice thought. We all need to be reminded of it every now and then. The all-woman Italian publisher mammeonline, a favourite of mine, has a great little story that does just that. It’s called La Cosa Piu’ Importante, which translates into English as “The Most Important Thing”. Written by Laura Novello and illustrated by Matteo Gaule. It doesn’t exist in English but if you read on, I can tell you all about it.
Francesco comes home from school one day grouching that the teacher has given him some really difficult homework. It’s that bad he’s even lost his appetite and his little dog Ralf can’t bring a smile to his face either. Refusing the steaming plate of penne in front of him, Mum eventually drags it out of him that he’s got some difficult homework. He has to find out what’s the most important thing we’d need to rebuild the world.
If a hurricane were to sweep everything off the face of the earth,
where would we start, if we had to rebuild the world?
He discusses with his mum what he’d save first (he’s a kid so that would be his bike, his football..) but Mum points out that what he thinks is important may not be what is important for everyone else. Maybe he’ll have to skip his kick around in the yard, and go out and do some interviews, just like the teacher suggested. Taking Ralf along with him of course!
First stop is his next-door neighbour, the carpenter Vittorio. Vittorio is very proud of his job and obviously thinks wood has got to be the starting point. Men need a roof over their heads, and wood’s what you need to build it. Problem solved.
But maybe not.
Further down the street he bumps into Carlo the burly builder. He builds houses too. But that’s not the most important thing for Carlo. He’s big, he’s burly and he says that if we were to lose everything, then we’d need “muscle power” to put it all back together. What use is wood if you can’t carry it? Hmm, thinks Francesco, that’s two words on the list now: 1. Wood. 2. Strength.
Next stop is Barbara the baker’s. Well, it is Italy and it is afternoon merenda time. The fragrant aroma of fresh-baked focaccia draws Francesco in to the shop and he decides to ask Barbara his all-important question. What’s the most important thing? She’s a baker, so obviously la cosa piu’ importante in her life is flour. (I started to see the pattern here. Could the author be hinting that we all get so tied up in our own lives that we can’t see further than the end of our own noses?) Barbara has a point though. Where do you get strength to build houses? From food of course. And so the list grows to three things. 1. Wood. 2. Strength. 3. Flour.
Since this is an Italian book, there’s no need to stick a candlestick maker and a butcher into the story too (or in a bath as the English riddle would have it). This is Italy and right next door to the baker’s there’s a bookshop. This is where I really started to like this story. Well done, Laura, this is a great message to have in the middle of a seemingly simple trip around town. Not all Italian towns actually have bookshops next to the bakers in real life, but one can always dream. And that’s what books are all about. Dreaming, or gaining knowledge as the bookseller explains. We can’t do anything, build houses, bake bread, etc. if we don’t know how to. Francesco thinks that maybe she’s right. As so the important things become four.
Getting serious now
After that glimpse of a more cultured world, Francesco’s journey takes him to the doctor, who quite rightly enlightens our hero to the fact that if we’re dead then there’s not really much point to anything on his list. What is it that keeps us alive when we get sick? Medicine. And so the list keeps growing. Four important things become five. Will five also become six? If the Mayor of the town has anything to do with it, then Francesco most definitely will have another important thing to add to his list. In awe of the roly-poly, very official-looking fellow, Francesco learns that if the world is to be a decent place to live, it must have laws. And laws are the glue that holds everything else together.
Or are they?
Francesco doesn’t know what to pick: wood, strength, flour, books, medicine, laws….so he writes them in a big clump in the middle of the page.
But how do I pick just one?
And then his mum does what all mums do best. She gives him a big hug and makes it all better. And says:
Think of something that knits all those things together and gives them a sense.
Francesco thinks long and hard about it. But he still doesn’t know. So his mum takes a red pen out of his pencil case and draws a BIG RED HEART around the list of words. Francesco’s eyes light up. He gets it. Finally.
Dear Francesco, what you’re looking for is love, his mum explained.
If a man’s heart is full of love, then he’ll plough the land, plant the seeds, mill the wheat, make the bread to give hungry men the strength to build the houses and use the knowledge gained from books to cook the food and build the houses with wood. If the lawmakers are guided by love, then they’ll make the right laws for the good of the people. If driven by love, the doctors will use the medicines we know and discover the new ones we don’t in order to cure the sick and rid the planet of disease
Love is the most important thing!
There’s no need to say any more, that’s a fantastic note to end on.