Luisa Lunelli was a dear friend of the Assagioli family, and in this memorial, she gives many intimate details of Assagioli’s life. His imprisonment, the death of his son Ilario, the expansion of his work. A much-valued contribution to the story of Psychosynthesis.
By Luisa Lunelli
Translated by Gordon Symons, from the Italian edition: ROBERTO, NELLA E LUISA, by Luisa Lunelli
PRELUDE TO WAR
In the mid-1930s, on a sunny June afternoon, I stepped off the bus in via Nomentana on the corner with via Antonio Bosio. In Rome, in via Antonio Bosio, dr. Assagioli, the doctor who “worked miracles”, as people said. I had an appointment with him.
The boundary wall of Villa Torlonia, in which the Mussolini family lived, runs along via Bosio and their surname brought to my mind the farm we had in Romagna bordering on a property of the Mussolinis. The vision of that beautiful countryside, open to the air and the light of the Rabbi valley, was already helping to ease the tension of my first meeting with a psychiatrist. At that moment, in fact, I did not even know how I would manage to describe the case I wanted to present to him, as it was not clear even to myself.
The door of the building no.30 was open. I went in and went up a few steps and found myself in the entrance of the Assagioli apartment, a vast room whose singular brightness I noticed. A whiter, thinner, brighter light than the bright summer Rome sun. It was a light that I have not forgotten and that I have only met very few times in my life.
In the opposite room a middle-aged gentleman was finishing speaking to an attentive audience. I thought there had been a mistaken appointment, namely that I had been given an appointment for a lesson, rather than a professional consultation. The teacher left the classroom, and everyone gathered around him. Almost everyone wanted to talk to him. Of course, this was not the time to present my things. However, it happened that I found myself next to him and it also happened that he turned to me and said: “Go upstairs – he said pointing to an internal staircase – my wife is upstairs and there I will be able to talk to you, if you want” . Upstairs were Mrs. Assagioli with some friends, and I sat down with them and accepted a cup of tea.
The doctor came up a little later. He looked tired and it was clear that he was looking for relaxation. He enjoyed the cup of tea that his wife handed him and joined in the playful conversation that was taking place. Again, there was no need to mention my problem. When I started to leave, Assagioli said: “Come back, or rather come back soon. In our shelves you will find something good to read; take what you want. You will certainly find something that interests you. “
I returned; I went to the shelves and found books and handouts that were interesting. Of course, even a little strange; strange things, but good things. So, I went back to take some new readings, with a certain greediness. But soon Signora Assagioli told me that in the next few days they would be leaving for the countryside, so the house in Rome would be closed. “Visits are always welcome in Tuscany,” she told me, and I promised her a visit. And so it happened that I was not a patient of Assagioli that day, nor was I ever again. On that day, however, a friendship was born that was very long and so very good and beautiful.
In the early years we saw each other very little because I lived with my husband in Trento, his hometown. But from time to time, I went back to Rome to see my parents and to let them enjoy their granddaughter. To reach the Assagiolis’ home one had to cross the city, my parents’ home being in Monteverde-Gianicolo and their parents in Nomentano. Sometimes my father accompanied me on the long journey and then he would exchange a few words with the doctor. They reviewed the events announced in the newspaper and it was easy for them to understand each other: they both knew life, they had no illusions. But there was no pessimism either, although the waters were beginning to get rough. Italy was preparing the expedition to Ethiopia. My father seemed to see this as a considerable risk. I would say that Assagioli, in principle, seemed more peaceful. “At least from the military point of view, he said, there can be no surprises”.
One day, one of their talks presented me with a surprise. An active collection of signatures was underway among the Jews of Rome. Those in charge visited all Jewish families asking for the signature to support “Jerusalem as capital”. That day my father asked Assagioli about it and he replied: “Of course, they also came to me for the signature. But I have not signed.”
My father’s eyes fixed on Assagioli; he stared at him questioningly, without speaking. Assagioli replied with a steady look, silent. Then, still in silence, he shrugged. The conversation resumed naturally; they continued to deal with other events of the day. But their serious looks, those moments of silence and that conclusive gesture of resignation told me that the two men had understood each other about something quite serious. The scene impressed itself on me so that I never forgot it.
* * *
In June 1940 Italy entered the European conflict. My husband put on the official uniform of the Alpini and was sent to the Western Front. He was a generous man, and he left me with a generous farewell: “I will come back, sure. I have no intention of dying, I assure you,” the day before leaving he told me confidently. But a little later, returning to me again, he added: “But if it should happen to me, don’t mourn it; you are young, make a new life; I will be happy for you. ” He was spared, and I was able to see him five years later.
My husband having left, I decided to leave Trento and go to Rome to be with my parents. The journey in those days took many hours by train. I was in the sixth month of the second pregnancy and I wrote to Nella that I would need to rest one night with her. In those days they were in Chianti, in Roberto’s beautiful villa called Villa Serena. The villa was a few kilometers from Florence, and for me, just halfway between Trento and Rome.
At the station in Florence I took a taxi. Upon arriving, I entered the large gate that was wide open, and the villa’s front door was also open. That seemed unusual to me. I went in and found myself in front of Roberto’s study, which was also open. Inside the study were he, who was sitting at the desk, and three gentlemen standing behind him. One was handing him some sheets which he read very carefully. At the end of the reading, one of the three said in a decisively commanding tone: “Doctor, I am sorry, but you must follow me without delay”. “I have no difficulty,” said Assagioli standing up. He only asked, “Please let me go upstairs for a razor and a change of linen.”
At the entrance, I tried not to let myself be seen, unsure of what to think of what I saw happening. After a few minutes Assagioli reappeared. “I’m ready,” he said amicably. The gentleman who gave orders moved, Assagioli followed him, then the other two. Passing in front of me, only then did he see me. “Are you here, Luisa?” he exclaimed and immediately added: “Go upstairs, to Nella. She needs you. ” He went out with them, took a seat in the car and the big police car moved quickly towards Rome. Upstairs I found Nella in tears, shocked at what had happened in a few short minutes.
She was distressed by the fragile health of her husband, whom she imagined in a cramped cell, suffocating in the summer heat of Rome, without any comfort, with who knows what poor hygiene. The poor quality of the food worried her.
She was outraged by the speed with which they had snatched him from her. But she wasted no time, she phoned friends in Rome. He also telephoned the prisons immediately to ask if it was possible to bring food for the prisoners. When they answered yes, she telephoned the authorized restaurant, ordering a daily meal, as granted.
Then she drafted a telegram for friends in psychosynthesis in New York and had it taken immediately to the post office in the countryside by a boy from the farmhouse. Once these first things were done there was a pause. Then we finally threw ourselves into each other’s arms, the embrace of reunion, the joy of seeing each other again together with the serious anxiety of the moment.
We were both very emotional. But we also felt determined not to lose heart, precisely because in that situation we felt we belonged to Roberto more than ever. Precisely because in his trials, our courage offered him help from afar. But we didn’t say this in words; indeed, we kept a long silence. At a certain moment Nella drew a sigh and asked herself in a low voice: “My Roberto, when will you come back to me?”. Then I took her hand, invited her to help me, in the meantime, to put her things in order. Roberto’s papers had been scattered here and there in his study, perhaps at the mercy of prying eyes. This is, in fact, what we both did in the afternoon and towards evening everything was ready for his return. “What could Roberto have done?”, I said to Nella. “He has never done anything wrong,” I repeated a couple of times. “In a few days we will see him again.”
That evening, before going to bed, we prayed for a long time. We prayed fervently for Roberto in prison and for Italy in the war.
I stayed with Nella the following day as well. On the third day she accompanied me to the gate of the villa. We said goodbye once again; she hugged me almost maternally and said: “Don’t worry, everything will be fine, and it will be a lovely boy.” At the station in Florence I took the train to Rome, where my first daughter was waiting for me with my grandparents.
Roberto was held under arrest for about a month. Once out, he stopped in Rome with friends for about another month, then returned to Tuscany. Months later Ida Palombi told me that the denunciation spoke of pacifist activity. I saw Roberto a few months later, and of course I asked Regina Coeli about that August. Well … he seemed to have forgotten it! He thought better of it, and willingly replied: “yes, it wasn’t comfortable, there were some inconveniences, but it was a very interesting and useful period”. He had had the opportunity to contact a category of people that is difficult to meet. The investigators had to know his ideas, so he had had the opportunity to talk about psychosynthesis. They listened to him carefully. Eventually he was told that his ideas were “interesting”. Roberto was happy. In fact, it was just one of the first acknowledgments of psychosynthesis!
He underlined the importance of having hours and days available for a re-reading of the Divine Comedy and minor works. His in-depth knowledge of the Poet and the perfect symbols with which he expresses his experience, had given him excellent material for the exercises of spiritual psychosynthesis.
In addition, the days in prison eventually became exercises, perhaps involuntary, of ‘personal psychosynthesis’. The provision of food, when you are waiting for it hungrily, produces a thank you, albeit unspoken, to those who have cooked it and those who offer it to you. An offer of gratitude towards the animal that had fed him, with the sacrifice of its own life – something that should be done when eating meat – met with no objection even from the roughest prisoners, Roberto recalled.
At the age of about fourteen, their son’s health began to worry Nella and Roberto. Ilario had been treated medically since childhood. It was hoped that his developmental stage could bring new energy to the young man, but his growth was too rapid. Ilario made such a leap in stature that, seeing him a few months later, I was impelled to exclaim: are your long trousers hiding your stilts?”. We laughed, but his growth had weakened him even further.
Ilario, being sensitive to the pain of his parents and their love, underwent long illnesses and painful interventions without complaining. Although I did not follow him particularly, I saw him experience pneumothorax twice. Once the useless pneumothorax was revealed, a motor nerve was terminated, and the diseased lung was thus definitively immobilized. They gave him very painful gold injections, as his father himself told me. Although Roberto entrusted his son to the best Italian and Swiss specialists, he also carefully followed the medical research; and any new medicine or new method that seemed to be reliable was immediately attempted.
In the best times, Ilario followed the courses of the classical high school. Most of the time, however, he was forced to remain absent. Classmates kept him informed day by day. Ilario studied in bed or on the deck chair; he showed up for exams and always passed. He obtained his classical high school diploma and enrolled in the University of Medicine. But soon this programme became too burdensome for him. Then he turned to Agriculture. But soon Agriculture was also beyond his possibilities. He also gave up on his dream of graduating.
In time, visits from friends ceased as well. In those years, the only defense against the infection of tuberculosis was avoiding contact with the patient, and for this reason parents forbade their children to visit Ilario. There was a beautiful young girl, the daughter of one of Nella’s farm families, whom I met again in the room of the S. Domenico hospital. The young woman showed a certain familiarity, sat at the foot of the bed, participated in the conversation. Ilario followed all her movements with a happy light in his gaze. But soon that companion also disappeared.
Ilario was able to fill the loneliness imposed on him by illness. He wrote delicate lyrics that were inspired by the nature of the park around the villa, or described his own feelings and those he saw in the people he still had around him. He continued to keep in touch by correspondence with his most faithful friends; the postman delivered a short letter to my daughter, which it turned out was written two days before his death.
But during his isolation Ilario had made contact with other friends too. They were friends for whom there was no fear of contagion, great friends, of inner affinity. Now Ilario had taken on a search for the most significant maxims left to us by the wisdom of our and other civilizations, of the present and the past. He chose the flower of them, evaluated their content, shape and expression, then classified them according to a programmed order. He wanted to turn them into a ‘path’ that would help the reader, oppressed by troubles, to move from blind human pain to enlightened peace. The long duration of his suffering condition allowed Ilario an undoubted experience. Of this experience he testifies in the preface: “the first to take advantage of it was the compiler himself”, and the title he gave to the collection was precisely “From Pain to Peace”. The booklet is therefore a path that begins a search, which must become an awakening. The awakening will see the light of inner Peace: Peace is therefore a goal that was reached by many.
The father accompanied his son in this enlightened enterprise for months, or rather for a few years. Roberto gave Ilario all his intelligent love and generous service, in a delicate harmony of relationship. It was unparalleled support in the boy’s long and serious trial.
* * *
And now Italy was also a theater of war. The Allied front reached the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and stood on its ridge for months, on what was called the Gothic Line, which divided Italy in two. Heavy air raids had forced the citizens of Bologna to leave the city and spread into the countryside. A country property of my father’s came to be in the immediate vicinity of the front. However, the family took refuge there; the cannon fire would have been less fearful than the already known aerial bombardments. Nella was in the south. There was no possibility for the two of us to communicate during that last autumn, winter and spring of war.
When the war was over, when we finally met again, we did not dwell on the events we had experienced. Instead, we felt the need to talk about normal things, to think about planning a future. From the past Nella only mentioned that Roberto had left the house and spent some time in the ‘mountains’, with considerable discomfort for his fragile health. She added that the decision had been made in a family meeting. Since it had been discussed in the family and Nella didn’t add anything more, I didn’t ask for more. I believed that we needed to avoid the risk of blackmail, a danger that threatened whoever was – or was deemed to be – wealthy. In the disorder of those last months there was no protection for civilians and there were cases of extortion accompanied by the murder of the unfortunate. The large park surrounding the villa made it dangerously isolated.
Years later, I learned from Carmela that the doctor had spent a “short” period in the home of a pastor and his wife, a man who was certainly trustworthy. Carmela went at night to bring him clean linen and food from the family kitchen. Ilario had kept company with his father on some occasions.
* * *
With the end of the war, antibiotics arrived in Italy from America and with penicillin, a magnificent victory was achieved over centuries-old tuberculosis. But it was too late for Ilario: his physique did not react to penicillin. So, for Nella it was clear that official medicine had no more resources to offer. Nella was now looking for a ‘healer’. I had already met Padre Pio, the Franciscan friar, one of the most capable in those years. I spoke to Nella about the profound impression which had been received from his spirituality. Nella had already heard of Padre Pio. She asked me if I felt like accompanying her and Ilario. It was a joy for me to promise her my help for the whole trip.
Roberto had recognized his wife’s right to maintain the religion in which she had grown up. Ilario’s baptism was due in part to his concept that it is the mother who must give the first religious education to her son.
This open mindedness had gained him a valuable benefit. Italian racial law, approved by Parliament before the war, discriminated against ‘mixed families’. Roberto’s family was a ‘mixed family’ (that is, one of the spouses was not Jewish) and Roberto was thus a ‘discriminated Jew’. Certainly the qualification of ‘discriminated’ influenced the political police of the fascist regime, when in just a few days of interrogation he definitively registered his practice.
Ilario Francesco had deepened his knowledge of Catholicism and among the great figures he admired above all was St. Francis of Assisi. Padre Pio was a Franciscan friar and for years he carried the stigmata of the Crucifixion; Ilario wanted to meet him. Despite the exhaustion which now continuously oppressed him, he was happy with his mother’s proposal. Roberto collaborated in the preparation for the trip.
The train journey from Arezzo to the Gargano village was an ordeal. Rails, bridges, stations, everything was under construction or under repair. The convoy had to stop continuously to allow workers time to lay or repair a few meters of track. The wait could last for hours. The train resumed its march, but the driver had to make it go at a walking pace before finding some safer stretch. Our journey lasted two days. There was no food or drink service on the train. People slept on their feet because there was no place to lie on the floor, they leaned against the walls of the corridor or against a willing travel companion. Roberto had been able to provide us with a reserved compartment, and none of the travelers standing in the corridor ever asked to enter. Ilario’s white face, always lying down, held them back. The trip, however, did not cause particular disturbances to Ilario. From Foggia a ramshackle bus took us to the village of S. Giovanni Rotondo in two hours.
We were able to obtain a wheelchair from the small hospital and so we had a means of transport for Ilario. The convent was quite a way outside, between rocks and olive trees. Every morning a small crowd attended the Mass that Padre Pio celebrated at dawn. The church was then slightly larger than a chapel and the convent was a convent which housed five or six friars.
When Padre Pio appeared from the door of the sacristy and went to reach the altar, those closest to his path tried to touch his habit, to touch the cord, they grabbed his hand to kiss it. He was unhappy with that fanatical attitude towards supernatural gifts. He defended himself energetically, even roughly, but at the same time he looked around and noticed the crowd. He saw Ilario’s chair and motioned for it to be brought closer. One of his men opened a way through the crowd and brought it to him. Padre Pio greeted Ilario and wanted his chair to be taken to the side of the altar while he celebrated Mass. And so it was, every day that we stayed up there. During the Mass, in the culminating sacred moments, Padre Pio would stop in contemplation. There was then a profound silence in the church, a silence that could be ‘felt’.
After Mass, the convent rule allowed the celebrant a half hour of recreation, and Padre Pio allowed some friends to enter the small cloister; he entertained them with his jovial conversation and always brought Ilario in.
Nella and I couldn’t get an appointment with him; there were too many reservations. But his gaze was on us and we could have known it because it was announced by a wave of perfume. It was a particular perfume. Two people could find themselves next to each other and at the same time perceive, each, their own distinct perfume. The experience of the perfume was very common to the visitors of the place.
Nella hoped with the trepidation of a mother who awaits a saving outcome. The attention that Padre Pio had paid to Ilario made her hope. “Ilario was a good young man and saving his life would mean saving a life that would have been spent in the best way; it would have been a life of service and testimony. She had brought her son to him, so that he might heal him, he who had saved many that the doctors could not save, but he was able to … ” This Nella said in her heart, silently to Padre Pio.
Ilario did not talk about his meetings with Padre Pio. He shared no confidences, neither with his mother nor me. He was in better health, had more color in his cheeks and was not too fatigued. But his thinking did not express it. I’m not saying he didn’t hope; but perhaps he might have had a different interpretation. Perhaps, in that attention, Ilario saw a paternal encouragement for his coming departure – a tender farewell.
Ilario was strong and serene until his last day. The parents no longer let the whole night go by without one of them getting up and going to their son.
Years later, Nella told me about that last night. Roberto got up that night. He had spent a few hours sitting next to his son. Towards dawn, Ilario had expressed his desire for a little food. His father had gone to the kitchen to prepare a sandwich. When his father returned, Ilario closed his eyes forever.
I didn’t go to the funeral, but a few days later I went to see the parents. It was a beautiful November day with the sweet light and the warm sun of the San Martino summer. As I walked along the avenue of pine trees leading to the building, I felt the emptiness, I felt the absence of Ilario. I said to Roberto, with tears in my eyes: “his eyes no longer see our sun”. Roberto, indulgent, almost smiled at me, but immediately asserted confidently: “his eyes today see much more sun!”.
Nella’s heart suffered a tremendous wound, a wound whose damage I would have liked to have known better. But it was impossible. Nella did not speak. She didn’t like visits. She didn’t want condolences. The condolences of those who had not lost a son meant nothing to her … they had not lost Ilario. She suffered terribly and preferred to suffer alone. You could see in her the effort to overcome herself, and you also saw that it was impossible for her.
But Roberto was beside her. United in the same pain, Roberto stood by her side, never leaving her and always keeping silent. He only asked her a few thoughtful questions to inquire about her need, her desire. This attention, Nella could accept; at the same time his silence told her that he understood and respected her; that he respected and was waiting for her …
She felt the warmth of that waiting and the love that radiated from it. Her resistance softened, the light returned, the wound in her heart bled less … and slowly Nella, so supported by Roberto, was able to recover and return to being the energetic woman she had always been.
ROBERTO AND NELLA
My father’s apartment in Trento having been destroyed by the bombing, he hosted us definitively in Bologna, where he had settled. Now contacts with Florence were easy, and I could continue my friendship with Nella with frequent visits. If everything was normal in my house, I could also stay a few days with her. Roberto saw me gladly and considered me one of his wife’s best friends. And I also felt comfortable in the atmosphere of their home. Their relationship was of the very best. They were different, yes, but complementary, and communication between them was easy; it maintained, indeed increased in understanding and love, as could be seen daily.
Roberto was punctual. At the appointed time he would appear in the dining room. Nella, when she was very busy, forgot the time and who was waiting for her. I was trying to curb my impatience in front of the prepared table and the uncovered soup tureen in which the soup was getting cold. Roberto switched on the television for me, not for him, who was not interested in the news, because at that moment he saw Nella taking care of the land, thus leaving him time for his studies. So, when Nella arrived, she was greeted with gratitude by her husband. Nella liked that appreciation; on the other hand, it was natural for Roberto to express it. Nella forgot about the low market rates, the chilly season and the rising taxes: now she could finally relax. She sat at the table and the delayed meal was more peaceful and friendly than if it had happened on time.
Their longtime conjugal love retained youthful features. After Nella had put on an elegant dress for a show or a reception and I, who was helping her get ready, had put her lace gloves and the perfumed handkerchief in her purse, Roberto entered the room. He would come to choose the jewels that were to complement the dress. From the jewelry box he chose the turquoise bracelet and the ring with a large, rare turquoise stone, if the dress was green. If the dress was blue, the necklace and the lapis lazuli pendant earrings would suit her. At other times there was the double necklace with large shells, which came from an aristocratic grandmother; there was also an oriental pearl necklace and earrings, in short, there was a choice not of great value, but of good taste and skilled workmanship. Roberto fastened the necklace to his wife’s neck, slipped the ring on her finger, handed her the earrings so that she herself could look for the small hole in her earlobe. After making the last gesture, he took a few steps back to observe the details and the whole. He looked at Nella with a look in which there was the pleasure of a husband introducing himself to friends with his beautiful wife. Nella was very beautiful. Then I, cheekily, asked: “Roberto, when is the next honeymoon?”.
“We will plan it soon!”, He promptly replied.
How should I describe Roberto, as he never spoke about himself? He gave little importance to what was personal to him; he even forgot about a month in Regina Coeli!
But some unexpected ideas occasionally came to me from Nella. Like when, telling me about herself, her youth, Nella came to say: “By now I was no longer very young. I had never been able to decide to accept previous marriage proposals. I thought it was no longer appropriate for me to have a wedding. But I met Roberto and I immediately said yes. Roberto was not like any of the others. ” This sentence clearly alluded to Roberto’s different ‘level’.
Roberto was a very good man. His goodness was present in every hour of the day. He answered encouraging requests, was ready for any service, but for himself he asked for nothing that was not absolutely indispensable to him.
He treated his family, his distant relatives, friends, students, his patients and servants with the same courtesy. To his mother-in-law, his grandmother Eloisa, over ninety, he brought that respect due to those who have long been the head of the family.
Now he was the head of the family. It didn’t weigh heavily on him. Only when necessary did he take due responsibility with strength and clarity of mind. He was interested in his son, his grandchildren and their friends. He loved their amusements, accepted bets and jokes from them. He was always ready to help them in their studies. In the conversation in the family, however, he never introduced arguments in which his intellectual superiority showed. It took me years to realize his vast literary, historical, scientific and musical culture. It took me a long time to find out how many modern languages he spoke and how many ancient ones he could read.
Roberto had a humility that always made him respectful of others. I don’t remember hearing any hostile phrases, negative judgments, not even simple dislikes. I never saw the slightest irritation or impatience in him. The word ‘defect’ did not exist in his vocabulary. Defects were ‘different qualities’, qualities not cultivated or misused. Yes, I will always remember how lovely it was to live with him, to live by his side. It was a peace that did good and encouraged good. I felt ‘healed’ next to him, without sessions, without medicines …
One day Nella asked me to help her find an indispensable document to conclude an urgent deal. All that was known was that the document was in one of the many boxes of documents. It was a long task and we started it immediately after the midday meal. Hundreds of sheets had to be examined about subjects mostly unknown to us and written in technical language. Understanding the content as quickly as possible involved very intense mental work. We spent all afternoon there. The sun was approaching sunset, the light was going down in the room; fatigue had given us headaches: but how could we stop if we had to have the document now? Perhaps the fatigue itself made us delay the decision. Roberto appeared in the doorway and asked: “How’s it going?”. “Badly”, we replied desperately, “we have found nothing!”. “Well, he said, you must start by illuminating the situation!”, And with a slight teasing smile he turned on the electric light.
With the ‘enlightened situation’, the picture changed very quickly. We saw the tiredness on our unmade weary faces and the idea of stopping the search didn’t seem so wrong after all. We realized that the five o’clock tea had been forgotten. We asked Carmela for it and we drank it together with Roberto, while our last scruples about the interrupted work were dissolving. As it happened, we did not resume the search the following day or later. The document was never found and the deal was still concluded. How come Roberto, unbidden, had appeared at the right time? We really didn’t ask. These things happened with him. We knew that the people under his roof were always present in his heart and mind; we knew that when they were in difficulty, impossible situations appeared and were solved as if by a miracle; just like that afternoon, when a joking phrase and a turn of the light switch were enough. It was his habit: for us, they were simply part of him.
To those who lived in his house Roberto did not ask for any particular practice of spiritual life; he only offered two occasions. One, daily, by opening the door of his study at noon. It signified the invitation to enter for meditation. It was about twenty minutes of silent meditation, followed by the recitation of the Great Invocation aloud. The other opportunity offered was the celebration of the full moon. He observed it in the dining room around the big table. He read the instruction prepared by himself that, in addition to the description – new every year – of the meanings and influences of the sign, also contained practical references to the present. Forty minutes followed, and also an hour of silent meditation, very good, as sometimes Roberto himself observed with satisfaction. Then we left each other in silence. The group consisted of the family, some occasional guests and some close friends. For the general public, on an appropriate date, the full moon was celebrated by Roberto in the meeting room on the ground floor of the building.
Roberto certainly did not give the impression of wanting control over the life and conduct of others, not even those of his own. But if anyone wanted to talk about something, then he listened carefully, with sincere interest, to any problem. Above all, it helped to find the right approach to the problem. But as for the solution, he kept himself apart. “It’s up to you to decide,” he said unfailingly, leaving me quite unhappy that I had spoken to him and hadn’t got the help I needed – or at least, so I thought. But there was also an occasion that made me think differently. I informed him that I had been offered the position of manager of the practical assistance of the local section of the Women’s Group. That offer was very welcome to my kind heart. But Roberto, whom I had rushed to inform, said: “Do not accept, do not accept positions”. My good heart had had a cold shower. And it also seemed to me that the phrase “do not accept positions” indicated that he had not understood me. But later, and precisely because the dictatorship was on the path towards its destiny, I understood that Roberto, as a father would have done, wanted to protect my inexperience.
THE INSTITUTE OF PSYCHOSYNTHESIS
In the first post-war period, Italy experienced its wonderful rebirth. And psychosynthesis also took rapid steps. The Assagiolis, now settled in Florence, had given the Institute a very convenient location on the ground floor of their building in via S. Domenico. This facilitated Roberto’s contact with his collaborators. From his studio in his apartment, going down two flights of stairs – slowly, because of that arthritic knee – he was in the secretarial office. Most often it was Ida who would be called from upstairs in the President’s study. Ida Palombi, who had given her time and skills to psychosynthesis since the Rome years, was now doing her best for the growing Institute. She acted as secretary and treasurer, organized annual courses, managers ‘meetings and a shareholders’ meeting. A remarkable amount of ordinary work, and a lot of overtime. Permanent help only came to her later. Ida was also considered to be family and lived in a small section of the building.
Among the main activities of the Institute, the most demanding remained on Roberto’s shoulders, as he took the annual courses. With those lessons he had to give the first information on psychosynthesis to an average audience. His lessons therefore had to be summarized and simple, without losing either their completeness or depth. And his lessons were precisely like that. I found the handouts extraordinarily convincing. They expressed profound truths. And those truths, which I was meeting for the first time, to my amazement, it seemed to me that I had always known them. Then it also happened that by rereading a new handout, I still found new meanings, new life. Rereading them now, after so many years, those handouts still tell me new things. Where can so much truth, so much wealth come from, if not from great love, from great commitment? The research was a daily effort supported by Roberto, who was no longer young and of very delicate health. He was fatigued every morning and also many afternoons, mental and even physical fatigue, because of many hours at the table also tired him physically. It was a renunciation of comfort, of leisure, of personal success. But of course, they were also rewarding hours and, when he met with good will in the students, he happily saw the future open to his Psychosynthesis.
Beside him, at work, there was a friend, a brother. Nella too, considered prof. Gabriello Cirinei a brother for Roberto. Divided by university interests – Roberto in Medicine and Gabriello in Mathematics and Physics – psychosynthesis then brought them together in the hard daily work. Roberto received not only the comfort of an understanding at an adequate level, but also help in the work, which was precious to him. In fact, Roberto took quotations from authors of the past, of the distant past in his writings, made references to civilizations of the East and the West and all this required laborious control over the texts. But it was enough that he asked his friend and the friend provided him with what was requested. Due to the fact that they both had the same broad culture, there was always an answer to the question and this saved Roberto hours and maybe days of work.
Roberto also turned to his friend for language advice. Venice, in which Roberto was born, has a gentle, but very poor dialect. Roberto felt the need for maximum accuracy in describing the new psychology. Sometimes the word or phrase did not satisfy him. He talked about it to his friend and the friend would come up with not one, but two or more words or a more concise, more meaningful and perhaps witty phrase, offered by the wealth of his Tuscan.
Together the two friends did valuable work. In Roberto’s small, secluded private studio, in via S. Domenico, only Nella entered freely to inform Roberto about housework. The two scholars appreciated her visits. It was a few minutes of relaxation, which did not distract them. They worked in silence; very few words were enough to mean many things. And in that harmonious atmosphere that they themselves created psychosynthesis was born, pure, easy and imbued with great love.
The value and fruitfulness of this work began to be seen, perhaps slowly, but undoubtedly, from the beginning. The Institute opened centers in different cities in Italy. Roberto asked me to open a center in Bologna. I tried, and I can say that the solution to the first problem was easier than expected: the meeting room, for which there were no rental funds. When I spoke to the director of the Higher School of Social Service about psychosynthesis, she promptly placed at our disposal a school classroom for our meetings, on every Saturday afternoon. So, we had our headquarters right in the heart of the city. I asked Roberto about the teacher for the course. He replied that it had to be me. I was quite scared of it. It was the fact that I had never studied psychosynthesis; I had only read several handouts. Fortunately, Roberto understood me, did not insist and … sent Cirinei to Bologna! So we had Cirinei for two annual courses. The number of students was quite good from the beginning, and this told us that there was interest in the city. We however did not aim at numbers in any particular way; above all we wanted interested and assiduous students. In fact, from the number of those present, a small group of ‘assiduous people’ emerged in attendance and homework: three aeronautical engineering students, one in nuclear physics and a seminarian. Cirinei gave interesting lessons, always presented lived examples, which stimulated the students to share their own cases. The hour was divided into three periods: thirty minutes for the theory; fifteen minutes for exercises, in class; fifteen minutes of discussion on the lesson and the exercises. Home exercises were also given, the “assiduous ones” would report on in the following week.
The lessons were always rather too short, even if the professor might have wanted to stay for another hour or so, because the time allowed was determined by the train time for his return to Florence.
But Cirinei had suffered from his heart for a long time. Doctors noted a worsening of his condition. He had to stop teaching at public school and had to decrease his hours of work with Roberto. He continued to come to Bologna once a week (for the second year of the course). There was a certain breathlessness as he spoke. His daughter Maria Luisa now always accompanied him and replaced him a couple of times in the lesson. One day his heart stopped. Psychosynthesis had lost one of its best, and Roberto remained alone in his small studio, doing his great work.
* * *
The thought that the founder would one day be no longer, suggest to some that it would be good to give the Institute of Psychosynthesis the status of a Moral Entity. In this case, the Institute’s budgets would have come under state control. Roberto, on the other hand, had created his own completely independent Institute when he started work in Rome. It seems to me that he was not enthusiastic about the idea of the Moral Entity, but only the Moral Entity could legally accept donations and inheritances; and Roberto and Nella, the late Ilario, had made a will in which they left all their property to the Institute. Therefore, the Institute was established as a Moral Entity. The practice, a long and complex one, was carried out above all by Ida, who was convinced of it and was able to lead it to a successful end. The last difficulty concerned the paragraph of the law which required that real estate must be covered, for a certain proportion of their value, by cash. Roberto told me that there was no cash. I had some treasury bonds, which I received from my father and took them to Ida. Roberto then told me that they had covered this request from the law. It was not a large sum.
There were certainly other harsher pressures on Roberto, such as that of registering the Institute of Psychosynthesis as a professional association. Perhaps Roberto had too heavy a commitment to be paying attention to professional problems; certainly, it was not these that particularly attracted his attention. His purpose was to bring psychosynthesis to environments and people. He wanted to meet teachers, to interest parents, educators, social workers, humanists, psychologists, doctors, priests. Psychosynthesis is also ‘service’. But he, who was so dedicated, almost never uttered the words ‘service’, ‘testimony’, ‘voluntary work’. He did not pronounce these words, but he did inspire them. And certainly, those who were attentive to him absorbed them. He once briefly told me about a professional problem, which was persistently present to him. It was brief and since I do not remember his precise words, I will not attempt to report them. But if I don’t remember the words, I do remember that a shadow of sadness passed over his face when he concluded what he was saying: “Don’t talk about it.” I didn’t speak about it; I thought then that he showed some weakness.
I now think that he could well have been feeling weak and tired, but that knowing that psychosynthesis would succeed and that extraordinary claims were now being made, he was also troubled by the risk of splitting.
The doctors recommended the seaside for Roberto. The seaside was not healthy for Nella, but she still wanted to accompany her husband to the sea every year. That year they invited me to spend the month of July with them on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Since she had previously experienced an exceptional summer storm that had suddenly lowered the temperature and caused Roberto to fall ill, Nella had become extraordinarily provident and put shawls and pullovers in her luggage; I also believe she included coats. By now she knew that in the rented apartments there was a shortage of kitchen crockery and dining room services, so he also packed pans and plates. Roberto, with the same large foresight as his wife, worried about the work he could do on vacation, filling boxes of papers, and packing books, typewriter, stationery. All this preparation began two months in advance, during which suitcases and packages, one after the other, were deposited in the entrance of the apartment, which could thus give the impression of a family preparing for expatriation.
On the day of their departure, despite the large car they had rented, it was not easy to pack everything. Roberto, who had his share of responsibility for this, confined himself to the “observer” point of view and commented wisely from this privileged point of view, causing laughter. When everything seemed settled, Nella and Roberto reached their seats through very narrow spaces, but each was tenaciously carrying a voluminous personal bag. There was still the mongrel dog and the Siamese cat: they were the representatives of the “Third Kingdom” in the family, as Roberto said, and they too went on vacation. It was difficult enough to get them to accept the places created specifically for them. Once this was obtained with caresses and tidbits, finally the departure took place between the festive greetings and the loud clapping of those who had helped them. Nella was never able to streamline departures, not even for short trips. The baggage seemed to give her security. I reached them by train a day or two later, with my personal travel bag as my sole encumbrance. I shortened the travel time by reviewing, and being amused by, my mental film of such a laborious departure.
Roberto did not have a good summer. As soon as his synovitis flared up again, it gave him a fever. The doctor ordered him a few days in bed. Acute synovitis is very painful, but Roberto never complained.
When his knee improved and Roberto was able to start walking again, we began to lead him to the beach. The apartment was on the coastal road, so that you only had to cross the road and the softness of the beach was there. It was a large stretch of sand that we crossed slowly, at Roberto’s limping, but happy pace. Carmela followed us with the beach chair, the shawl and the pillow. A short distance from the sea, the open parasol was waiting for us.
We sat Roberto down, we placed the pillow behind his back and the shawl across his knees. But he absolutely didn’t want us to keep him company. He insisted that we take a walk along the sea. And then we, after making sure that he had his book, the newspaper and his glasses, reached the shore and began our walk, enjoying the coolness of the ripples that came to lap over our feet.
We walked, and every now and then we turned back to locate him among the beach-goers, as this was then possible, since the beach was not as crowded as the beaches of today. When we had reached the distance from him that we did not want to exceed, we reversed and went back. Still walking along the sea, we again reached the level of our parasol. We stopped and attracted Roberto’s attention by waving our sun hats. He replied by waving the newspaper and waving his arm and hand for us to continue; he didn’t want our walk to be cut short.
And so we went on, talking about our own things. We already knew them, but we loved to repeat them to each other, like two sisters, who loved to dissect family things to impress them in the mind better and better. Now there was also talk of Ilario, serenely, and of the imprint he had left on those who had known him. Meanwhile, we were again at the height of the parasol and again we greeted Roberto and again he greeted us, and we continued on. And so, up towards Caletta, then down towards Rosignano, until the sun and the beach became wet, then we went back to Roberto. The afternoon on the beach was over. We helped Roberto get up and start the return. With the spacious sea in our eyes and its healthy breeze in our lungs, we returned home. Dinner and the quiet end of a day of harmony and peace awaited us.
After their month at the seaside, the Assagioli family spent a few days in the mountains, for Nella to recover from the disturbance of the seaside. Then, as usual, the Assagioli family spent their autumn in La Nussa, near Arezzo. Ida was already in La Nussa to resume the Institute’s activity; partial activity, which would find its full scope again when the family returned to Florence.
Autumn in La Nussa was the time of year that Nella dedicated herself to her lands. Agriculture was the family’s economic source and it also covered part of the Institute’s expenses.
But by now agriculture was not very profitable. Post-war Italy had chosen to become an industrial nation and therefore the government neglected the measures required by the agricultural sector. Nella found herself needing to start selling. I also depended on agriculture, but my farm was very small, and I was able to keep it going regardless of the general situation. I loved the land so much. And also, I felt the earth’s love for man. I said to myself: “Don’t you see that the earth awaits the seed from man’s hands? In these autumn days the earth is waiting for the seed, and in a few months it will return an abundance of food! “.
Our common love for the earth was the firm and lasting basis of the friendship between me and Nella. I appreciated the energy with which she moved in tasks which at the time did not seem capable of being performed by a woman.
Roberto and I found ourselves alone one morning at breakfast. At a certain moment Roberto looked at me and asked me: “Luisa, can I call you daughter?”. An unexpected question! I looked for an answer, which I would have liked to be suited to such a beautiful question, but which I could not find in the same moment. The short delay came to increase the confusion of the first moment as no answer came to me; I didn’t give any answer … But I had to give an answer. So, two days later, I said, “Call me sister.” He was happy. In fact, he laughed and said, “Well! You rejuvenate me! “. Later, thinking back to him and to his request, I thought perhaps he was expressing a nostalgia for fatherhood, a silent desire for the lost son … The human heart has its secrets; even Roberto’s heart.
I found later that my answer hadn’t exactly matched his question. In fact, for some years it had been my job to take care of my father who had reached a very advanced age. I saw his increasing physical weakness, but also I saw him open up to ever greater goodness and sweet and far-sighted wisdom. He was born before the end of the nineteenth century, and like the heads of families of that generation he took full responsibility for the women of the house. If their women were outside the house, men feared every danger for them. Well, my father was calm only when his wife and daughters were under his gaze. Contrary to this rule, he never had any difficulty about my visits to Assagioli if I stayed a few days with them. In fact, it seemed to me that he silently encouraged me. I was very grateful to him and, who knows, maybe it was just my most conscious commitment to him, that suggested my answer.
Roberto had already shown me his goodness and his help in another episode, a few years earlier. He had said to me: “This morning I remembered you (we were still at the time of” lei “) in meditation; I have dedicated time to you, particularly “. I immediately realized that it was a precious gift. In the silence of the house, the longest meditation of the day was in the morning, very early, without leaving the room, while still in the bedroom. Nella would still be asleep. It was at that hour that he found his deepest connections. Even that time, the suddenness of the communication did not allow me to offer hearfelt gratitude, but it remained with me all my life. The time came to call each other ‘tu’. When the ‘tu’ was first used in the presence of Nella, I felt a little embarrassed and thought it appropriate to give her some explanation. So I began: “Do you mind if I address your husband as “tu”?”. “Certainly not – she answered – indeed the two of you should have begun that earlier”. I liked her answer so much; the plural of the verb also included her trust in her husband.
Roberto was no longer young. The winter following that July was even less good for his health. It began with a cold and then turned into a serious flu, until the doctor told Nella that he wanted his patient in the hospital. I took the train to Florence. At the Careggi hospital, in the reception, they recommended a visit of a few minutes, given the serious condition of the patient. And in fact, I had the impression that I would never see him again. However, that crisis was overcome. But the patient remained in a serious condition. Nella and Carmela didn’t even leave him at night. Ida took turns with them every few nights. But Ida was also affected by flu. I phoned Nella that I would come to be with the patient the next night for the shift.
When I entered Roberto’s room it was already late, but Nella was still waiting for me. We said the evening prayer together. We said it next to Roberto’s bed and, finally, Nella warmly commended her husband to Padre Pio.
Left alone with Roberto, I brought the chair, which was at the foot of the bed, next to his bedside. I sat down and asked softly: “How are you?”. He replied: “Good.” He was certainly not well, but he had surely changed for the better from how I had seen him a few days before. Since it was already very late, he wanted me to lie down and sleep on the other bed that was in the room. He insisted and tried to sit up; I had to lie down on the other bed to keep him quiet. I fell asleep almost immediately, but after a short sleep I woke up: it was already midnight. He had his eyes open; the high fever would not let him sleep. I went over to him and we resumed the conversation in a low voice. “Do you know that I see you looking better?” I repeated it. He nodded yes. Then he raised his voice a little more and added: “Maybe I have done it.” And after another moment: “It really wouldn’t have made much difference to me: I would have gone away willingly … but Nella would have been left too alone.” I was struck by this sentence, but that was not the time to ask anything else.
At around three o’clock we decided to go back to sleep. In fact, we slept for a few hours. When we awoke it was already light and the nurse who came to take the morning temperature came into the room and put the thermometer on Roberto. Roberto’s temperature was high, but Roberto with his usual optimism repeated to her: “I’m fine”. Later the concierge phone warned us that Dr. Sannangelantonio had arrived from Milan and had asked to see Dr. Assagioli. The doctor was a friend of Roberto’s, and treated by using the methods of therapeutic psychosynthesis. Roberto said that he felt he could see her and was allowed to get up. With the arrival of the doctor I could consider my night shift ended. I asked for her assurance that she would not leave Roberto before Nella’s arrival and I decided to leave for Bologna with one of the first trains, the same morning. The doctor asked me who the friar was who had been seen in the window space while she was entering. The rush to collect my stuff for my departure allowed me not to have time for a delicate explanation.
Before leaving the room I stopped for a moment on the threshold for another farewell to Roberto and to tell him, with my thoughts, that this time I was leaving with the happy certainty that we would still have him amongst us.
The summer came, and Nella, who had always accompanied her husband with joy and interest on their usual trip to England, was instead very doubtful about it. But Roberto felt expected by friends from England and other countries. He felt the urgency of what he felt instructed to tell them. For his own sake, he could not cancel the trip. Nella then accompanied him. Ida and I joined them a few days later. In Tunbridge Wells, as usual, Nancy and Michal were guests at Sundial House. From the early days Nella became ill and remained in bed almost the entire period of Roberto’s work. I kept her company in the room, and I didn’t mind. In the intervals between one session and another, Roberto came up to see us; he gave us news of the work; he brought us newspapers and magazines; he made sure we got tea.
I was able to see how much interest everyone had in him; how much celebration everyone was having; how much he was loved; how much the typical English ‘distance’ shortened and became cordiality in dealing with him. They looked for him, surrounded him, each waiting for his turn. Everyone spoke to him seeing him according to their desired role: there were those who wanted to make contact with a counselor, some with a doctor, some with a friend, etc. Everyone certainly received a lot. I saw many faces looking reassured, rejoicing and heartened. Roberto was capable of being the friend, the counselor, the doctor: everyone was happy to have a meeting with a person of balance, of life experience, of a high spiritual level, which was easy to see in him. Overall, the journey, its length, its vicissitudes, had been a very great inconvenience for both.
NELLA IS ILL
There was something that had changed in Nella’s health. Roberto had to have her in the hospital that night when he mentioned it to me. By now the change was evident and did not concern only her physical condition. Nella’s memory had become blurred. Her memory had weakened, Nella could no longer find the objects she had had in her hands even a few minutes before. This made her think that strangers had entered the house and that they were still there, hidden somewhere. She was therefore in a state of constant anxiety, in her own home. And as for going out, it was impossible. Too many dangers, too many bad encounters awaited her. One day, a terrible day, I realised how serious it was. She asked me, “I’m sure we’ve already met, but I don’t know where. Tell me your name. “
Thus, over time, the small domestic ménage was made difficult by the heavy problem of the presence of the patient. It did not occur to Roberto, even for a moment, that the solution could be Nella’s admission to a clinic. Roberto instead organized the house around her. He sent for Florence Wooldridge from London, who was an elderly friend, who was grateful for the help of a treatment received from Roberto. Florence had already stayed with the Assagioli family and had always been very welcomed by Nella. Nella had told me that she felt the “harmonious radiation”. Roberto knew this and precisely for this reason he now placed her at the side of Nella. Because of her age, Florence Wooldridge certainly could not collaborate much in the increased housework. But everything she could do, she did it perfectly. And so it was with her task with Nella. Nella never had any shadow of suspicion aroused by her presence, but only pacification and serenity.
Meanwhile the management of the house had passed to the trustworthy and good Carmela. Roberto had given Carmela strict orders: the service to the lady of the house had to be the first priority – the absolute priority – over the functioning of the house. Regardless of the inconvenience that the sick person’s needs might cause, and therefore also the consequences that might impact her day, Roberto wanted to keep Nella with him, to have her under his own eyes. He wanted to save her from the terror of a new environment and unknown faces: Nella had to die within the family that she had created, she had to die within the walls of that house, where she had lived and of which she had been the queen. To Roberto, this much kindness seemed simply her due.
THE LAST MEETING WITH ROBERTO
In 1972 my daughter was due to take up her workplace in Canada. The problem arose of the person to whom her little girl was to be entrusted in the hours after school. She let me understand that this task could be mine and I, for the love I had for my daughter and granddaughter, decided to go with them. But when I went to Florence to say goodbye to Roberto and Nella, I told Roberto my perplexity in leaving the Center of Bologna, still in the training phase. Roberto replied: “I understand. But if your daughter needs you – and she asks you, as she has done – it is clear that your duty is to leave”.
* * *
Two years later I returned to Italy for a visit. Of course, I also wanted to see Roberto again. It was the beginning of summer and he was already in the countryside; not in La Nussa, but in Villa Ilario, a pretty cottage higher up on the slope of the same hill. Built by the will and legacy of grandmother Eloisa for the Institute of Psychosynthesis, it was to have become a work center named after Ilario.
Nella was no longer there. Carmela was with Roberto, serving him with the dedication with which she had served and assisted her lady, and Ida was available to the Institute and was its President. Roberto had just had flu; he was still recovering and very weak and pale. But the smile that came to his lips on seeing me was enough, his bright smile, for me to find Roberto and his indomitable love for life and for every, even small, moment of joy, including my visit. We immediately talked about psychosynthesis, the achievements taking place in several distant places, the excellent students who were at work at the Institute and elsewhere. Then I mentioned Piero Ferrucci, telling him that the exercises that Piero had guided, during a lesson at the Center of Bologna, had impressed the class. This news was, for Roberto, a significant note in the symphony that psychosynthesis was composing.
Joyfully he mentioned the inscription on the pediment of the temple of Apollo in Delphi. That writing asks man for Transformation, that is, making himself capable of living the spiritual life. And then I reminded him of the work of Florence Garrigue, who had founded the wonderful Meditation Mount in California. At the name of the great Sister in the Work, Roberto smiled. He smiled at her with his smile full of light: “Yes, she did an immense job!” He exclaimed. He thought for a moment and then, more quietly, said: “She did much more than I have done,” he added. It seemed to me that he doubted that he had done all the work that had been assigned to him. I was about to reply: “What more could you do than you did, Roberto?”. But I saw in his face, as he said those words, an expression of enlightened humility. I had to respect that humility, and I kept my silence. He returned to the young people, returning again to them with joy. “The young people are on the world stage and we are already seeing them representing their new roles. And they will do it well!”, he said confidently.
I noticed how much he liked to talk about the young people. Usually it happens that the elderly speak with particular appreciation of their times. But for him, the past was ‘past’. His heart was young with them in their present.
From the terrace of the villa we took a look at the green valley, crossed by the silver ribbon of the Arno. Then we went back and across the living room, on whose main wall hung the large portrait of a deep-eyed brunette lady. We said goodbye in silence.
I had a couple of hours with Roberto. He was now too tired to have lunch together. He said farewell with an unusual expansiveness compared to his usual confidentiality. “I enjoyed your visit. I will remember you, he said – You will go far! I will remember you in your work activities. Whatever happens to me, I will remember you. You still have a long way ahead of you. But we’ll meet again. ” I was very moved, and I felt unable to embrace or kiss him. I turned away from him and left him in the doorway, feeling his gaze on me following me, touching me again.
Lunch had already been ordered in the best restaurant in the town and Ida was to accompany me. Ida confirmed that his flu had been overcome, but the doctors remained worried. He told me that colleagues and students came to visit him; friends also came from far away. And everyone came for the ‘Master’, so they called him. I know, however, that he did not like the title of Maestro. “Nobody can be called a ‘Master’, since we are all necessary for our part,” he said. If they insisted, and he just couldn’t stop it, then he would agree that they consider him one of the first in the work, a pioneer. But he asked them to commit themselves to continue like him, and better than him. Ida accompanied me to the train; before leaving me, she promised me that she would immediately inform me of any eventuality. Two months later, in Canada, I received news of his death. Ida wrote to me that it had happened at Villa Ilario. In those last moments, some doctors were around his bed. He had spoken his last word in an understandable way: “Ilario”. Ilario was returning the greeting to his father, from many years before. Florence Garrigue spread the news to friends of the Meditation Mount in the five continents: “… Roberto has lived the day of his Liberation”.
LEAVE OF ABSENCE
These pages of mine describe something of my years with Roberto and Nella Assagioli. Most of them were written in Canada. In Canada, the only documents I had were made up of what was present in my memory, of what I still found clear and ‘alive’ as it had been then. I also realized that I had to be very exact. If even one more word escaped from my pen, I saw it bring a different shade to the episode, and I had to delete it.
I reread these pages and find them poor, too poor for him, who was so great! I tried my best, but I don’t seem to have said anything very much. He had a world of light behind him that sometimes flashed in his eyes, in his smile, in his words, in his simplest attitude. I would have liked to recall those moments. But like the waves of the sea, which from afar reach the shore and advance onto the beach, thinning until they become a thin film that caresses our foot, and immediately after, they retract and reconfigure with their sea, which is one with the ocean, so you could guess that behind him there was something infinite, some great spiritual thing that leaked out and that delicately advised us of his presence.
Assagioli’s heart had felt the yearning of the peoples who had come out of the two world wars, the yearning for the restoration of moral and spiritual values. He accepted the task – indeed, he dived into it. He forgot his professional career, profits, renown, university professorship. He was not fascinated by the ideologies of the time and power did not convince him. These are things that take time, but he felt he had no time available. He could only choose, and he did choose, a simple, apparently bourgeois life, in which therefore, the pages of success that the biographer would love to offer his readers are missing. For her part, Nella, who because of her family and culture could have shone in the Florentine intellectual salons – and perhaps she would have liked to – always kept by her husband’s side, in the same simplicity of life. Finding in my mind memories of the many days spent with them was for me like picking up and leafing through an old family album. Those photos were not too important then, and perhaps they were also not very artistic; the album had been placed in a drawer and forgotten. But with the silent passing of the years those photos have become interesting, now they speak and they surprise. I have presented some which, as I said, were ‘alive’ in me. Now, now at the end of these pages of mine, I like to describe one more. This is it:
I see myself sitting together with the family. Nella was interested in a friend’s problem. She was a very dear friend and the problem was that she was gaining weight, inexorably, and therefore losing ‘her figure’. Nella understood only too well how unpleasant it is for a young lady and in particular how unpleasant it was for her friend. Ilario said to her, “She is just like you, that’s all!” There was an expression of surprise on Nella’s face. But she immediately recovered and exclaimed: “The fact is that I cannot see myself exactly …!”. Then we all laughed, including Nella, and Roberto was happy to add: “Here, this is a good example of smiling wisdom!”. Therefore, it is difficult to get an idea of the intensity with which Assagioli lived his service life, hour by hour. He captured daily events in the ‘tension of harmonization’, and always highlighted the best solutions.
Maintaining that tension at this level is certainly not easy, but he found his resources in the love that was in his heart and also in the love that he always knew how to discover in the heart of his neighbor: an uninterrupted attitude from early youth to late age .
“For your vision and your work, for the love you brought to the contemporary world, for all that you have given us during your life and for all that you will still give us as we discover you, we will love you still more:
Thank you, Roberto! “