1. Catching the Butterfly
Eighteen-year-old Giacomo Soresi glanced surreptitiously over at the girl he’d sat next to in class for the past five years, his heart beating fast. Once he had been a little boy, flipping through the mysterious book full of strange script and beautiful pictures his father’s colleague had given him – a book called Bhagavad-Gita As It Is. And at exactly the same time, young Laura Pipitone had been singing her heart out to an LP her big brother bought from a Hare Krishna devotee on the street. But back then, Giacomo didn’t know about that “coincidence,” or the many others to come that meant his destiny was inextricably entwined with hers.
All he knew was that, shy as he was, he had to tell Laura how he felt about her before it was too late.
But how? He looked at her, and saw in Laura the same struggles, the same questions about God and life that he had. And he saw her tiny, almost oriental frame, and her delicate and tender personality, like a… like a butterfly! Suddenly he knew what to do. He’d write her poetry, like Jim Morrison from his favorite band the Doors. “I know that you have an intense inner struggle that you’re trying desperately to communicate to others,” he wrote. “And I know that they can’t hear the scream of the butterfly. But I can.” It was adolescent and angsty, but he thought it worked. He scribbled the rest of the poem, folded it up, and passed it to Laura.
She read it and thanked him coyly, but nothing much happened until a few days later, as they were leaving school. With great effort, Giacomo managed to overcome his shyness for the second time and simply took Laura’s hand in his. The moment he did, Laura could feel that he was completely different from other boys. There was goodness in him. They walked in silence towards the bus stop, not saying anything for ten long minutes. When they got there, Laura finally looked up at Giacomo. “I feel…. like a butterfly caught in a net,” she said.
They fell in love. It was obvious from the outset that their relationship was deeper and closer than those of others around them. There was an affinity in the way they reacted to situations, the way they faced obstacles. Five years after that day at the bus stop, they decided they would spend the rest of their lives together, and in the traditional Sicilian way, approached their respective families for permission. A friendship began to grow between the Soresis and the Pipitones. Marriage hovered just around the corner.
But destiny had a few lessons to teach them first, and it decided their plans wouldn’t go as smoothly as they’d hoped.
2. A Painful Choice
It all began with a coincidence strangely reminiscent of the one that had connected the couple in their childhood.
A Hare Krishna devotee intercepted Giacomo on the street, handing him a copy of Teachings of Queen Kunti. When Giacomo saw the author’s name on the cover, recognition welled up inside him. “A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada,” he murmured, remembering the Bhagavad-Gita he had treasured as a child. He looked up at the devotee. “I know Prabhupada,” he said.
“R-r-really?” the devotee spluttered, taken off guard. “Well… Why don’t you come to our feast this Sunday?”
That same week, on the other side of town, Laura answered a knock at the door and found a devotee on her doorstep cradling a stack of books. “I always used to dance and chant Hare Krishna when I was a kid,” Laura told him. “But I never knew what it meant. Could you explain it?” When the devotee had finished picking his jaw up off the doormat, he invited her to the Sunday Feast too. It was a busy week for Sicilian Hare Krishnas.
Laura and Giacomo began attending programs at the local ISKCON temple together. They devoured Bhagavad-Gita As It Is and other books, started chanting Hare Krishna and following the four regulative principles, and developed a relationship with a guru. Giacomo was thrilled. “I’ve finally found my way,” he thought. “This is the answer to all my questions! When I read the Bhagavad-Gita, I can feel the presence of God in a way I never have before.” And Laura was on the journey with him. It was exciting.
But when Giacomo and Laura suddenly became vegetarian, stopped all illicit activities and often went on mysterious trips with new friends, their families – staunch Catholics – realized they had found a new religion. And they weren’t happy.
“He’s being brainwashed,” Giacomo’s parents explained urgently, begging the help of everyone from friends to counselors and priests. But their son’s obsession with Krishna consciousness only grew. Anything that was in its way was thrown by the wayside. He began to slip away from them, and mere dissent escalated into all-out war. “I hate the devotees!” Giacomo’s sister screamed down the phone at him one day when she called the temple. Her voice was reeling and pitching in teary hysterics. “They stole you from us, and I hate them!”
Laura’s parents cut her off from Krishna consciousness completely. “You can change everything in your life,” they said. “But you can’t change your faith.” She argued and fought with them, but there was nothing she could do. She was a girl, and in Sicilian culture, that meant she couldn’t make her own decisions.
Meanwhile, Giacomo was drifting away from her, and it hurt. Whereas before they had gone to the temple together and practiced at home, now he was embracing the monastic way of life more and more. When she visited him at the temple, the devotees there thought she was trying to take him away, and treated her coldly.
An ultimatum was inevitable. One day, Laura’s father invited Giacomo to go for a drive with him. “You have a choice to make,” he said, breaking the heavy, uncomfortable silence. “Either Laura, or Krishna.”
Giacomo knew that if he said Laura, who wasn’t allowed to practice Krishna consciousness, his new love would be in jeopardy. His heart felt heavy, but there was no way out. “I choose Krishna,” he said.
One year went by. Giacomo, now Jaya Govinda Dasa, was distributing books in the town of Palermo, and as was his habit, decided to visit his parents who lived in the area. As he entered their living room, he stopped abruptly. His parents, his sister, the family’s counselor, Laura’s parents, and Laura herself were all there, their arms folded, eyeing him purposefully. He was about to be judged by the court.
It was a formidable one. They accused him of betraying his family and biting the hand that fed him. They made a last stand, a final attempt to convince Jaya Govinda to give up Krishna consciousness, come back home, and continue his relationship with Laura.
But Jaya Govinda wouldn’t be swayed. He was a celibate monk now. Dedication to God and higher principles stopped him from going back to his old life. Disappointed, his family nodded their assent. In time, they would come to terms with his decision.
As Jaya Govinda rose to leave, Laura approached him. She was as small and delicate as ever, but as she looked up at him, her eyes full of anger and bruised love, she seemed powerful. “Go and be a monk. Dedicate your life to God,” she said, her voice strong and unwavering. “But if I ever hear that you’ve married someone else, I will put a bomb in the temple.”
Jaya Govinda didn’t smile. He knew that her sentiment was a serious one, even if her threat wasn’t. So he just nodded, and they looked at each other for a long time, and then he left.
It was the last time they’d see each other for ten years.
(Tune in to ISKCON News Weekly on Saturday February 7 for the next installment...)