She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth turns in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.
by Robert Graves
Today I took two of my children to see an exhibit on Pompeii. My son is fourteen and my daughter is sixteen. They are on the very cusps of their prime – skin still soft and clear, hair dark and full, eyes wide. It was a perfect day to visit a museum. The sky was a cloudy grey and the cold air hit our faces like tiny pins. I love being with them. They are curious and smart. They like old things. I have been to Pompeii before and have been a guest lecturer in elementary schools on the subject of Rome, architecture, and Pompeii, so it was really important to me that my children see the artifacts. Italy is one of my passions and I want to pass that down to them. We wandered among the frescoes and amphorae, the lamps and small furniture. I pointed out the similarities of the tiny coins to ours and the beauty kit which looked surprisingly similar to my makeup bag. We compared the size of my son’s head to a soldier’s helmet. Would it fit? A video showing a typical house made my son exclaim, “Their houses looked a lot better than ours.” I wandered and thought if my house was suddenly put in a time capsule and reopened 2000 years later what would the finders think about what “the artifacts.” Would they think that bowl of crystals and rocks by my bed was an altar to the goddess of hearth and home? Would they find my teenagers’ shrines – his mini basketball hoop or the collection of seashells found on her travels?
After passing a couple of marble Roman magistrates, the museum guide opened a dark curtain and sat us in a room with a large screen. It was a video rendition of that dreadful day in August which started out sunny and calm and by afternoon every life in that city had been changed. As the volcano exploded in the film, the museum filled the room with smoke and assailed us with loud sounds of buildings falling, confused screaming, and dogs barking. When the movie finished, all was quiet under twelve feet of grey ash. The curtain pulled back and we entered the room where the plaster forms of the bodies were displayed. We were all alone there and got to look at each individual slowly and thoughtfully – the small child, the dog with the bronze loops on his collar, the pregnant woman, the man holding his cloak over his mouth, and the teenager on the stairs looking so surprised. We were quiet. My son looked out the museum window, “It’s snowing, Mom.”
When we drove away the snow was coming down in heavy flurries. The streets were covered in white and the cars looked like traveling snowmen. We were in for a long, slow drive so I turned on the heater and classical music. My two teenagers drifted off to sleep, tired from their journey to Pompeii.
The snowstorm was starting to hypnotize me as it hit my window. Trying to stay awake, I looked in my rearview mirror at my sleeping children and suddenly realized how quiet the world was at that very moment. It was so heavy and still. Then, my thoughts turned. After the initial panic of the volcano, maybe the ash from Pompeii might have been quiet as the snow falling. Did it fall like this? Did a mother huddle with her children and together take their last breaths? What were the last words she would have said to them? Watching my children sleep, I was filled with a desperate love for my son and daughter. The snow wrapped around us like a time capsule. I whispered to them my love. I whispered to the Gods to wrap them up and hold them exactly like they are, preserve this moment for eternity.