Gratitude to Lucy and Stephen for the heritage table that they’ve loaned to me. The lovely worn wood perfectly matches the floors and window frames in my apartment—as if the table is an extension of the building’s bones. This evening, I’m celebrating a countdown anniversary while seated at my new/old table, a perfect metaphor for my project.

As I daydream of my flight to Rome, now officially set for August 9, I cannot help but think of all the people who supported me on the path to today. For instance, typically, only an established family will have an extra table and chairs, and to be trusted with such a family heirloom, one has to be, well, family.

For those of us with modest resources when it comes to a built-in family, we create our own. With Stephen and Lucy, I lucked out simply by finding him at my place of employment. Little did I know how important they and their children—and the rabbits…and the guinea pig—would be to my life.

It’s in seemingly  small moments that the greatest bonds are sewn: attending Simchat Torah with them, cooking a meal together, sharing experiences of Italy, having Lucy at my side when the fellowship was announced, borrowing books—or a table and chairs… These threads are key to the layered tapestry of my life. They place me in a network greater than myself.

This inspired me to consider the other threads—all of the people who play a role in my existence. Some provide inspired conversation, the kind that makes me think that we can change the world; others lend a view from foreign countries whose customs make me want to travel and see more. Some make me laugh with sharp tongues and quick wit while others feed my love of philosophy and spirituality. Some nourish me with food and hugs, and others with life-long learning and partnership.

One can easily sum up the physical constructs of life, such as the buildings in which we live and work, the streets upon which we walk, the places we shop and visit, the ideas we invent, the work we produce and the clothes we wear. Without a doubt, our physical environment influences our mental and physical state, and our experience of the world.

At the base of this, however, rests our relationships. We may look at a cathedral and think that it’s beautiful, but our experience of that place becomes more meaningful when we learn that it was the last stronghold for town residents who held off a raid by barring the doors and praying to G-d for intervention.

We may look at a park and see a pleasing design, but what does that design really mean until people show up for picnics and playtime—to connect with each other and build layers of memories? We may look at condo after condo for a place to live, but until we find a space where we can picture ourselves cooking, entertaining, laughing and living, nothing that we see feels like home because we don’t see our people there.

It is the inhabitants of a space that give architecture meaning. It is the relationships, thoughts and experiences of the people who dwell, work, play, think, dream and perform in them. It is the meals they make, the conversations they share, their arguments and make-ups, their generosities and their failures that lend an essence, a gravity and a meaning to the materials that hold them.

So, as the reality of Civita nears—buildings and footpaths, cobbled streets and gardens—I am also thinking about the layers of relationships that I’ll find: those that exist now, the ones I’ll join, and those that I’ll keep with me, even when I depart.