When my daughter was a little girl I took her to Palermo, Italy. I don’t remember the churches or the parks or the food or the music. What remains from this trip is the indelible memory of the basement of the Capuchin monastery where over 8000 mummified human beings (mostly monks and a few laymen) are propped up against the walls. They have been dead for hundreds of years, but they are also alive inasmuch as they are still rotting. A relentless decomposition process still peels skin off bones and hollows out faces, leaving teeth exposed in grotesque grimaces.
I’m no longer holding my daughter’s hand. She is now a married woman, living her own life, thousands of miles away from me. I’m no longer marching through the dead looking for her. Twenty years later, I know exactly where she is. But there was this moment in the sacristy where I remembered losing sight of my little girl and the panic that ensued in the catacombs in Palermo, I looked into the eye sockets on the skulls on the shelves, I called her name out, and wondered if she was hungry.