(Published by Fra Noi, Chicago IL, December 2007)
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Ok, yes, I know it’s not Thanksgiving. December is the month of Christmas, Chanukah, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, Boxing Day, Las Posadas, Yule, Winter Solstice, National Cookie Day, and my birthday. So as far as special days go, this month is chock full. December is when the circle of existence ends and begins again. And it’s during this time, that every year, I am overwhelmed by reflection, and a great feeling of thankfulness. As another calendar year comes to a close, as I turn another year older, when the air is filled with holiday song and smells, I find myself ruminating on the time that has passed since I last roasted chestnuts, sipped Novello wine, and blew out that ever increasing number of candles on a cake. This year in particular, I am enveloped in a great cloud of gratitude for what has come to me, and am bathing in optimism about the future.
I know a man that lives in Umbria, not far from the silver-blue splash on the floor of the Valdichiana Valley known as Lake Trasimeno, in central Italy. This particular gentleman bought a house out in the countryside some years back. When he first saw that house, it was a shambles, the roof had fallen in decades ago, the floors were collapsing, and the stone walls were, bit by bit, toppling over. After signing the deed, his first priority was to demolish that house, razing it level with the earth. Then, with attentive patience, he rebuilt the structure stone by stone, using the original material. The walls were set back in place, stronger than before. Centuries old ceiling beams were cleaned and repaired, and now lend their solidity to what was a short time ago only a pile of broken rock, but is now a warm and inviting home. He had to destroy the old, to rebuild it again anew. I think I know how that house feels.
Six years ago, I came to Italy, not really knowing what I was doing, but I knew I had to come. I left everything familiar to me, uprooted my very being, and transplanted myself on Italian soil. It was a time of turmoil for me, and a time of pain and loss. My life in America, whereas not horrible as compared to living in say, modern-day Baghdad, it was not a good time for me personally. But as in the words of Austin Powers’ arch-enemy Dr. Evil, “The details of my life are quite inconsequential.” Let’s just say that it was time to tear down the house.
The phase of rebuilding has been the past six years I’ve spent in Italy. Piece by piece, I’ve put the old foundation back in place, but with marked improvements and enhanced stability. The walls have been rebuilt using all that was there to begin with, and now stand sturdy and reliable. This past year, I feel as if the final stage has been complete, the roof is on, and it’s time to move in. But this reconstruction project was not done alone, and I have many thanks to give.
My first thanks would be to Fra Noi, for giving me the opportunity to fulfill a dream of mine since I was a child. I’ve done many interesting and rewarding things in my life, but I’ve never been a “something.” People I grew up with are now doctors, lawyers, mothers, teachers, artists and criminals. But I’ve never had any particular title attached to me. Thanks to the opportunity given me by Fra Noi, I can now say “I’m a writer,” something I’ve desired since I first learned how to hold a pencil. Thank you Paul for taking me onboard, and for all your thoughtful encouragement. Thank you Mary for your eternal patience and help. And a very special thank you to my Fra Noi co-correspondent, my former professor and present friend, Judith Testa, without whose guidance, inspiration, patient prodding and consistent honesty, I’d probably be living under a bridge somewhere.
But there is another “thank you” that I owe, from deep within my heart. I owe it to something that previously had been unknown to me, but now I can’t imagine living without. I have an ocean of thanks to give to Italy, her culture, her mannerisms, her quirks, and especially her people.
I am often asked about “why” I came to Italy. “Had you ever been here before?” “Did you know the language?” “Do you have Italian blood?”, and the answer to all of these is “no.” In the dust that was raised by the demolition of my old life, the particulars of exactly why I was led to Italy is rather lost. Why not England? Why not China? I take the easy way out, and tell you it was Destiny that took me in her arms and set me down on this beautiful peninsula. Whatever the reason, I am here now, and owe my entire renovation to the kind, tolerant, and loving skill of Italy’s transformational qualities. After all, look what she’s done with Rome! Centuries ago, Rome was beaten down, abandoned, and left to decay…but to see Rome today, one would never know it was ever anything but the most beautiful city on the planet, and the center of the Universe.
For my rebirth and renewal I am indebted to this country and the love that her people have genuinely given me. It is well known that Italians have a strong sense of family, but what is probably lesser known is that their sense of family is not limited to only those that share close genetic links. It is my opinion that Italians are a people that have already achieved that which so many hopeful, propitious, oftentimes crystal-carrying humans long for. One integral goal of the whole “New Age” movement has been to see all human beings as part of one large, extended family, that we are all “one.” Italians have no need for metaphysical rituals, it’s already in them. They have a love for life that is not limited to self. They have a spirit of sharing, an eye for beauty, and a heart that is open. Passionate without being vulgar, hard-working without being materially obsessed, loyal, honest, dedicated, helpful, caring…they have given me more than I can ever repay. I thank them all, those who I know, those who I don’t, those that live in the houses next to mine, and those that live abroad. They all unknowingly carry the torch of human kindness through their customs and traditions, in what they teach their children, and what they share with their neighbors. They’ve taught me, “Finchè c’è vita, c’è speranza” – Where there is life, there is hope.
My last thanks goes to those of you that read my little offerings. I’ve received a few letters and emails from some of you, and your words mean so much to me and encourage me in this strange adventure I’m on. Thank you. Whether you are in the midst of tearing down the past, rebuilding the present, or making home-improvements for the future, may this next year be filled with contentedness and tranquility.
Happy New Year.