“It’s ispirazione, not inspirazione, or do you mean inalare?” The man called Antonio Castellano said. I think he was smiling at the thought of my poor mastery of his mother tongue, though scarily enough, most of my outpourings in Italian are about him.
Whatever it is, he is my inspiration (ah, the English language is so much simpler!). And inspiration comes in many forms, at surprising stages of your life. I was a doctor, lacking passion for my job, when I met Antonio on an enchanted tropical island in the Javanese sea, sleeping in little eco-huts under mosquito nets. He had come to the island on his own, to ponder about life’s big questions but ended up inspiring me instead. He inspired me to go back to school to train as a surgeon, to discover my passion again.
He did it with his beautiful writings over the following months. He would type in his Blackberry, or scrawl on a piece of paper, and later, he would read his writings back to me. His writings are self-deprecatory, soul-searching and always honest, and they touched me ever so deeply. I loved the cadence and the silences in his words. Later, in Milan over a couple of winter evenings, he read to me the manuscript that his friend Ambrogio wrote about a war-time love story in Monte Rosa (or maybe Arosa). And in a sense, this is why I write a lot these days, even on my busy days – to continue the magic that I once discovered in faraway Jakarta. His writings certainly changed my life.
There is something about Antonio that struck a chord deep in me, not least because he is Italian, and I am 25% Italiana. That Italiana side of me never achieved full expression until Antonio. But more than that, it is the silence we both share that created something special between us – as young children, we both began speaking later compared to ‘normal’ children. As adults, we still do not speak much, but we began building a bridge into each other. He had always been more adept than I with words, so I began writing ‘Ten Most Beautiful Equations in the World’ for him. Those ten equations now form the basis of the novel I am writing.
Years later, I often asked myself, “Why am I continued to be inspired by Antonio, why could I not get his words out of my mind?” I miss him. I miss his light. And therein lies the answer. His light.
Before I knew him deeply, I wondered where his light came from. I found the answer when I visited him in Milan. On the first evening I arrived, I met all his childhood friends except one (we went to Verona a few days later to meet him). I was jetlagged and ever so slightly intimidated to be faced by a wall of Italian men who had known each other all their lives. But they were grinning at Antonio and I as soon as we walked into the restaurant.
I told them I suggested to Antonio that he coaches football at my children’s school on weekends. I told them that he began going for Ashtanga Yoga in Jakarta. I told them he cooked traditional Sicilian food for me from his uncle’s recipes. They roared with laughter. “What are you doing to our Tony?” One of them said, eyes sparkling, merriness pulling at his lips.
And then I saw it all at once. Antonio gets his light from his friends, from this band of brothers sitting in a closed circle which embraced me, warm and generous, and suddenly, I could picture the boys that they had once been, all innocent and a bit cheeky maybe, but full of openness, generosity and light nonetheless.
Light begets light, and my post today is about wishing you the opportunity to absorb light, so that you radiate it, touching other lives.