School of Chemical Sciences Memorial

It’s hardly been a month since the day my dad called me and told me my mom had been murdered. Since the day, every moment, awake or sleeping, has been filled with her presence. She was the single-most powerful inspiration of my life.

Now it’s ironic that I am addressing a room full of students, most of whom study chemistry or physics. I say it’s ironic because many of you could probably reduce my mom’s existence to a series of formulas. Chemical reactions. Rules which govern the universe. Rules which would mean my mom is dead, forever. I thought about coming up here and arguing that you’re all wrong in order to prove that she’s not dead and that she’s still here, in some other form, listening to me right now. She raised me to think that way. I learned, by her example, that logic and rationale are not necessarily the most important qualities a person can possess. Instinct. Impulse. Passion. These are words that describe my mom. But I have thought long and hard to about physics and chemistry, and about my mom and the tragedy that has occurred, and I think in this case the laws of the universe, the formulas and theorems of science do indeed apply. So here I present what I call the 3 PPPs:

 

The Principles of Pia Physics

 

First, force is equal to mass times the acceleration of an object. My mom was a very small person. “Pia Pietta Piccola” we all called her in my family. Meaning, our “little, littlest Pia”. In my 23 years of life, I never saw her without high heels. She was about as tall as my 10 year-old sister, and weighed no more than a suitcase. Those who knew my mom, know that she had the energy of Wonderwoman. She was never too tired to do anything. She worked long hours, long into the night. Trying to solve whatever problem her workday had thrown her way. She dedicated countless hours to mys sister, Valentina. Reading, drawing and working through the multiplication tables. She loved to dance, so she did. She loved studying languages, so she did. Vacations, windsurfing, hiking... you name it, she loved it and did it. And if any of you have ever walked next to her as she went on an errand or went to buy a coffee. You would have been surprised at how fast she moved. Despite her short legs and the high-heels, she zipped around with the fervor of an over-cranked wind-up toy and the grace of a ballerina. And look at the impact she had on life, on those who she met. This little 4-foot something girl--whom most people thought was in her 20s-- could just change your whole day. She had this incredible strength and force and vibrant life, all compacted in her tiny little being. I think that explains why her love and warmth came in such abundance--it was so dense. She was an eternal fountain of beauty and love and we all rushed to be showered in her mist.

Second principle: every action has an equal but opposite reaction. My mom’s death should not inspire sorrow, loneliness, and desperation. It should inspire life. When my mom was tired, she didn’t lie down. She went dancing. When she was sad, she didn’t cry, she would find reason to be happy. The world is composed of equal but opposite reactions. We choose our paths, and every choice matters. Ever since my mom died, campus safety has been a front-page issue. People are terrified of walking alone at night. They are suspicious. This is appropriate, but, as my father would say, let us not lose sight of the facts. My mom lived a fearless life. This was a choice. She said on many occasion, I would rather live 50 happy years, trusting people and smiling when I want to, then darting from safety-house to safety-house, looking paranoically behind my back, and living 100 years. If she had lived the latter life, I don’t think all of us would be here today. We wouldn’t know her the way we do. We probably would never have met her. She would have been miserable, and we would have been denied this beautiful drop of sun. In my opinion, this would be a worse tragedy than the one that has befallen her. If we begin to live in fear because of this, if we stop giving and trusting, then the 47 years she lived in splendor will be in vain. Let’s not build a monument to the brief seconds she lived in pain.

Finally, matter cannot be created or destroyed. Though my mom’s body is gone, she will live on for eternity. Those who knew her, can still see her smile, can still hear her harmonious voice, can still see the glow she wore around her like a magic shawl as she walked the halls of this building, the sidewalks of campus, and the roads of life. Each of us possesses a part of her, inside us. That is a reward she receives for being a giving person, for radiating energy and life everywhere she went. But there is only one way to keep this spirit alive, and it’s not be dwelling in our sorrows or framing all her pictures: we can keep her spirit alive by passing it on. To our friends, to our brothers and sisters and children. We pass on the gift of giving, the gift of light. And I know, from all the years I lived in the glorious shower of my moms love, that this is by far the most important gift a person can receive.

Indeed, I received this gift from my mom. A gift that has inspired me to reach for the stars. I now live in Los Angeles, where I work in the motion picture industry and write screenplays. One thing my mom and I shared deeply, all our lives, was a passion for movies. But not just any movie, movies with happy endings. For her, there was nothing better than a glowing red sunset, a passionate kiss, and a happily-ever-after. Both good and evil exist in this world and I believe we can choose which one we want to focus on & reflect back. In turn, what we reflect will affect what is returned to us. This vicious cycle is at work throughout our life. So why not feed our ideals into it, so they can become our realities.

So here we are, at what might feel like an end, but what is truly only a beginning. The beginning of a new relationship with Pia, a relationship of the heart and spirit, rather than flesh & bone. This story is far from over. How the plot will evolve and resolve is up to us.

People have asked me: is there anything I can do to help? Yes, there is something you can do. I’ll bet that heaven has a movie theater and we are the show. So help shape this tragedy into a story about an unconquerable spirit fighting against the most vicious odds, rising to the occasion and finally triumphing. Those were always my mom’s favorite stories. These are the stories the world needs. This is the story I tell now, and will tell, again and again.

Contact

Fabio Gratton fgratton@gmail.com