“The best view comes after the hardest climb.”Unknown
August is vacation month in Italy. Most of the local businesses slow or shut down until September. The Italiani plan all year where they will travel this month, and the cities empty of locals who take several weeks off and head to the seaside. My Italiano and I planned to go to the Aeolian Islands (Le Isole Eolie) off the coast of Sicilia for the entire month. We booked in March, on the assumption that we would still be a “we” come August. Our assumption was right.
We drove from Torino to just outside Firenze. We stopped in Toscana for four nights for a reunion with my friend Maurine, who lives in France, and her family from California. We had a wonderful time reconnecting and blending our different lives.
It was good to have a longtime friend in my company that week. July 28 marked the anniversary of when Darin and I met 23 years ago. We always celebrated that day above all others, and it could have been an emotional maelstrom. I found myself in the medieval town of San Gimignano, with not only the Italiano and Maurine, but also English friends I had met the previous year. In the midst of the reminder that something was taken away, something was given that day–the chance to honor love, celebrate a reunion and enjoy new friends.
After Toscana, we headed to Roma to see one of my favorite pianists, Ludovico Einaudi, playing at Terme di Caracalla. We listened to his music under the stars while my mind churned with how much things have changed in my life, both bitterly and sweetly. The ebb and flow of give and get throughout life. I could see it in dozens of distinct scenes and images while the music played in the background.
For some reason when memories rush in to my head they often appear as snow globes. Little stories inside glass bubbles depicting a moment in time. We all have our snow globes in life. Obviously, there are happy moments–the times when we are full of joy. Then there are the dark globes, with gloomy backdrops and snow falling on an image that you never want to revisit. You shake them up in your mind over and over hoping the swirling snowflakes show a better picture.
I have started to understand that the darkest involve this underlying feeling of sadness combined with shame. Those memories where I am troubled with the result and saddened by how I handled it at the time. Times when I regret that I didn’t have the broader perspective of what was happening. These are the most difficult, because I know they cannot be redone. They just are and will always be a scar forever present, possibly fading over time. It seems grief has the license to open up your entire life in a way that reveals everything. It can be quite overwhelming feeling stuck in the weeds of your own life in experiences playing out again and again, without the ability to rewrite the ending. Somehow you push forward.
We arrived in Sicilia the following evening after a seven-hour ferry ride, complete with winds, rough seas, and a host of sick passengers heaving into plastic bags. Like yoga and farting, sea crossings and vomiting go hand and hand.
The seas finally calmed as we approached the first of the seven Aeolian Islands, Stromboli. I could feel my spirits lift with the island’s gentle reveal, and I began to sense that my vacation and a much needed pause to reconcile life’s snow globes had arrived.
We had four more ferry stops until we disembarked in Lipari. We met our host, Claudia, who took us to our house in the town of Pianoconte, one thousand feet above the sea. She gave us the ins and outs of the house, local tips on the town, and finally recommended we check out the local cemetery for its view over the island. I always had a fascination with European cemeteries and the history they stand guard over with their inhabitants. I took note and immediately put it on my list for exploration in the coming days.
Over the first week, I had been thinking a lot about my perspective of life and all of these damn snow globes in my head. I knew there was a thought grinding away at me that I needed to listen to in order to move forward. I wasn’t giving it the attention it demanded. Finally, I did.
In the peak of the afternoon heat and humidity, I took a much-needed walk. I continued for about 25 minutes, and just when the heat was telling me to turn around, I noticed a sign pointing to the “cimitero” or cemetery. I thought it couldn’t be much further, so I decided to push forward.
Soon I could see the outer walls of the cemetery approaching. There was construction underway to expand it. I was being careful to avoid the debris when I turned the corner and just froze. Breathless, hot, sweaty and consumed by wonder, I stood. I was able to hold a picture of it in my mind, close my eyes, and listen. Here’s what came to me.
It is easy to get caught up in the details of everything you have experienced, to beat yourself up over the things you regret, while forgetting those moments when you acted in a beautiful way. Shame is not an emotion that needs to be cultivated in your garden. The world has a never-ending supply of that. You have to step up to the balcony of life and see the entire extravaganza of things that make it what it is. Keep those snow globes on the shelf in your library of life. You can always visit them when you need to see the mix of experiences that have brought you to this point, stronger, wiser and more authentic. Be grateful.
So on the balcony of Lipari, near the place where physical lives have their final rest, I was offered the clearest message, “Don’t wait until you’re in a cemetery to enjoy the view.”
I want to dedicate this post to a man who recently transitioned from this life. He was a friend of the family when I was young, and a wonderful role model for being a great dad, husband, and friend. Godspeed your journey. Well done, George!
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