I keep revolving around this. Coming back to this.
This maddeningly simple, enterally complex truth:
I uprooted. I unraveled. I undid my life. I knew it, and I did not know it, even as I did it.
Each time I come round to look at it, I see something different: I see the same roots, finding pathways through new soil. I see the long thread of the weaving of my life, tugged and unraveled, knotted now in different patterns. I see seasons changing, raspy breaths as my lungs tangle in anxieties, sweaters knit and undone.
The metaphors keep changing – mountains, gardens, boats crossing the sea – and the truth is the same: it was more than I accounted for. Harder than I anticipated.
Which is most things; happens in all of our lives. I am not unique. We all come to parts of the road where we must, for a time, put our head down and just move past the dark place, through the muddy soil. We do not have space in our little, breakable bodies to hold the depth of the emotions we are moving into, swimming above. We wait till our feet to graze the surface of some other shore before we slow down; account for the breath in all parts of our body; the silky, emotional wells which lie in wait. The stories we chose not to live that come crashing up against us early in the morning – looking out across the crowded highway, like any other I’ve commuted across (besides perhaps the proportion of fiats) – and forcing the hand of memory.
While I was in the States last month, sitting close to so many people who have loved and known me so dearly, nearly all of my conversations with my 30ish year old friends hinged upon the same story: we’re in a process of reckoning with the doors we chose not to walk through, the things we walked away from in order to walk toward something else.
I have realised that in some ways, the last, hard year was a long sequence of realisations of how exactly what I left as I strode, wide-eyed and giddy through the shiny, romantic door that opened to me labeled “Italy”.
Which, I feel constantly, instantly compelled to say (somehow not able to just name the truth of something being hard without providing assuring that I am ok with that): I do not regret. This is the path life offered me, and thank God I took the gift.
Autumn is the season I know best in Italy. This is my third October here. Transition seasons are the most important to me, bring things up within me that need to be looked at in the light, harvested, weeded out and let go of. The altitude of Legnano is (shockingly) the same as Minneapolis: the sunlight hits the city in the same, watery angles across these warm days, the cool winds feel familiar, even as they wrap through such different streets of balcony-studded high-rises, splattered with ancient churches.
I have been passing through a hard season. Anticipated, sure, but in the way one thinks about winter and says to themselves as they look at the calendar “Well, soon it will be cold, but I’ll buy a new coat, chop some wood and hunker in. Spring will come.” Sentiments like this are easy to forget in the middle of February as you scrape ice off your windshield yet again. I knew it would not be easy to move to another country, but just how it would not be easy, the depth and texture of what being an immigrant truly means, did not occur to me (how could it have? Among the things I have realised is how individualised and lonely this road is). This knowing continues to shift within me and snag in surprising ways. The transition of the last year has been a long, hard season. Longer and harder than I thought, as it goes some years.
But I am from a forest rich in seasons; most famously long, hard winters. If I know anything, I know how to lay low, keep warm, curl up and wait, even when I’m frankly, more than a little miserable. I have trained my whole life for working hard, even in the cold, keeping vigil for the dream of green leaves and warm water even through a freezing night. I know the joys of the awakening of the spring; that the passing of seasons brings texture and brilliance.
I also understand (though sometimes only logically) that through the calm and quiet of winter, under the still, frozen snow, much is at work. It may look like nothing is happening, but it is essential, cyclically, for the earth to sleep, for things to slow down.
In the last few weeks, something has shifted within me; air pressure, day lengths, humidity. Anxieties that fogged and drained me, weights that I couldn’t shake, are beginning to ebb and streams without me are loosening. Texture and clarity is coming. I am stopping to notice things: the way light plays off the windows of a house, the particular flap of bedsheets hung out the dry. I know better than to say a season of this journey is changing – won’t know that till I’m well into the next – but hard days are letting up, and even if its just a shorter time, I am grateful.
As things start to shift, as I shake off the last 9 or so months, I reach into the darkness and find the contours of myself: still the same, familiar and holy. Remarkably not shattered through the beginning process of cultural assimilation, though there were days when I felt shattered. As I look back across the continent, to the string of the life I unraveled, I can see here that weaving is happening, that it is starting to come to be something. Sometime familiar even, something filled with my favourite things: weekend trips away, long nights with friends drinking wine and discussing love and creativity, Friday nights that arrive with a sense of having completed something at work, worked for and with other people doing important work.
I flew back home to Italy on the eve of the fall equinox, and as I left Los Angeles, California, a place shrouded in magic and memories as much as smog, I thought of Persephone, the Greek Goddess. I thought of her never ending transitions, traveling between her birth home and the home of her husband, calling the seasons to change in her wake. I thought about always readjusting, never fully understanding your new home, but slowly loosing your grip on the fine details of the place you thought you understood so well, the place that taught you who you are, which you walked away from in the name of some grand adventure. I felt as exhausted by this process as ever, felt less prepared to pick up this path in Italy than when I left a month before. But I came home, and in the weeks that have passed, things have, indeed changed.
Remember, I tell myself, that Goddesses are just powerful beings until their legends happen to them, until suddenly the world around us – the seasons, the lightning, the ocean’s fury – is explained by their becoming, their tragedies and triumphs.