A Series of Hellos

As I explored my new/old world this week, words from my friend Tom, who commented on my last post, continued to rise to the surface: “Aspects of that glowing bubble stay with you forever. That is transformation. Others inevitably dissipate and fade, along with the awareness of who you were before.”

I had incorrectly assumed that returning to work –and the rest of my Seattle life– would feel like stepping backwards; what I discovered was far more anachronistic. Settings (and people) appeared similar to the way I remembered them, but they were also different enough to feel unfamiliar, and in a way, new.

Moving hour to hour was like walking through the set of a movie I’ve seen dozens of times; while the mailbox and my front steps might be in the right location, I found lamp posts and trees in new places, my corner bodega painted a different color, and a hodgepodge of characters culled from other shows. Everything was familiar, but scenes were set in unexpected places and my old script was no longer valid.

Last Sunday, I wondered whether I’d feel sad or overwhelmed, but this strange combination of old and new –my evolving position at work, people changing jobs or moving across country, friends getting married– left me more amused and curious than it did bereft. Yes, I have my schtick down (“It was 80 and sunny when I left Rome, sigh, I miss it,” she says with a far-off look in her eye) but rather than lamenting the lack of gentle bells and sunshine waking me every morning, I found it fascinating to sit quietly and be entertained by this curious menagerie that no longer seems conventional.

In reflection, I think I was also waiting for a formal moment when the clock would begin to tick. Spending my first few days in the U.S. at the Pause convocation was otherworldly; since then, seeing my friends one by one has been less climactic and more gently celebrational. During my first day at work, I felt like an actor slipping into a scene already in motion without disturbing the flow of dialogue. There was never a thunderclap or the snap of a director’s mark that clearly meant, “Action!”

On Saturday, sitting at the back of the bar at 611 Supreme, I realized that the past two weeks have been a series of hellos rather than one obvious moment. It hit me when I wrote the date in my green Molskine notebook: two weeks have passed since I’ve been in Italy, and it’s been in the blink of an eye. Fourteen days there felt languid; a lifetime in every moment. There’s that dynamic sense of time again: moments stretch long and swing short, and there’s simply nothing to do but ride them all for what they are.

As I searched through the crepe menu, a sweet voice asked me what I knew about current films; when I looked down to answer, I found a girl with dreamy Piscean eyes and jet-black hair. Had I not learned that her last name is Murphy, I would have said that she had some gypsy in her rather than wild Irish.

She and her man, Thomas, were enjoying dolce far niente in a way the Italians would approve: canoodling on a lazy Saturday afternoon, drinking cocktails, flipping through the movie listings, and talking about life, love, and the previous night’s show, which he performed for an all-ages crowd…meaning that he had to change some lyrics.

I quickly discovered the serendipity in being seated there, not unlike that moment in Venezia when Iole and I crossed late-night paths with Denis in Campo San Stefano. Had the restaurant side not been full, I would not have been seated in the bar. Had I not made a self-effacing comment to the bartender, which Murphy overheard, she might never have talked with me, and I would have missed out on meeting these two amazing people.

Turns out, Thomas, with his leather wrist bands and rockin’ hair, is an accomplished singer/songwriter and his lady love, Murphy, is a fabulous cook (my ears perked up when she mentioned lasagna.) Over the course of my meal, we discussed the gathering power of food, my book and art exhibition, Thomas’ dedication to helping people –especially kids– through his role as an artist, and our desire to hold a collaborative dinner.

To be sure, within these lofty topics, there was much folly between us, since Murphy and Thomas were ahead in the happy hour department, but what we were sharing was quite real and poignant. Actually, it felt Italian to hold a conversation this way with strangers.

When I reflected on what I’ve brought back with me from Civita –things inside the golden bubble of transformation that won’t be lost– I realized that the ability to remain open was one of those gifts…along with my belief in the healing power of food. Is it any wonder that I continue to attract others on the same plane? I’d say it was magic, but there’s far less randomness to it than that.

When I finally moved to leave, Thomas asked if they could hug me. For water signs like us Cancers –and especially for those of us who are Italian– the only thing more nourishing than food is a good squeeze. I embraced them both, feeling warmed by their random act of friendliness — and the notion itself that three people could walk into a restaurant as strangers and leave with an embrace.

“Welcome home,” the fair Miss Murphy said as we leaned into each other. If ever I was looking for a single moment when this new/old life would begin, I think that was it.

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