Time stopped for many people that night.

My story about the tragedy of L'Aquila is finally up. This was one of the most difficult, complicated, and important stories of my career. I hope you read it. To the end.

I also want to share some material from the cutting-room floor. This first snippet comes from one of those reflection-inducing experiences that can be ideal for processing a reporting binge. It didn't serve the narrative well enough to warrant inclusion in the published story. For understanding the man at the center of the saga, however, I think it's illuminating.

“I grew up surrounded by the law,” Selvaggi told me. His grandfather was a famous prosecutor who fought the mafia in Sicily, and both his father and brother are attorneys. “I trust in justice,” he said. But he sounded more forlorn than convinced.

We were out to dinner at Castel Gandolfo. The picturesque medieval village southeast of Rome is home to the Pope’s summer residence. Selvaggi had put considerable thought into our dinner spot. He wanted me to see Lake Albano, which sits directly below the village, down a steep hillside. Formed by a nearby volcano, the crater lake makes for a good backdrop to a conversation about the clamorous geology of Italy. He also wanted me to think about old things—villages, streets, buildings, customs. The restaurant we chose was in a stone, centuries-old space, almost like a dungeon, connected via a tunnel to a building across the way. If an earthquake struck, we would have been in serious trouble.

And he wanted me to think about faith. At one point during our interview, he mentioned a YouTube clip he had recently seen, of a sermon delivered by a prominent catholic cardinal. Selvaggi liked the gist of the address, which went something like this: There is a single naked truth, but we each dress it up differently. The cardinal may or may not have been talking about God—Selvaggi, who is not a religious man, didn’t see it that way. What resonated for him was the idea of a single truth that remains locked in the prism of individual interpretation. The essential truth of what happened in L’Aquila, he says, feels similarly out of reach. That may be at least in part because, despite commonalities in how we think about and perceive risk, the decision of how to live with it is uniquely our own.

AuthorDavid Wolman