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Locked down but not out in Italy

Singing from the balconies! One nice thing about this crisis ... solidarity! “Guess you’re not living like a tourist anymore,” was the funny, truthful and somewhat gut-wrenching message of a friend the day the lockdown in Italy began. Today is day 6. My beloved Italia has been hit hard with the COVID19 epidemic. With the second largest elderly population in the world, the epidemic has meant a disproportionate amount of deaths in the country. So though I haven’t been worried about contracting it myself, this isn’t about me or someone like me who, if contracted it would probably have a sucky couple of weeks and then recover. It is about if someone like me contracted it and then spread it to a person with a complicated health history or an elderly person with a weakened immune system. Eerily orderly: Lines for the grocery store, each person one meter apart In a country with no concept (and no physical room really) for personal space, and in a city with reproachable hygie

Goodbye 2016: The end we were all waiting for

2016: the year everyone wanted to end. It just seemed like the bad news was everywhere: in politics - the ugliness of the US election and the unknown aftermath of the British vote; in the news - the horrifying Aleppo conflict and the endless stream of refugees needing homes in places that can’t or won’t accept them, the disgusting terrorist attacks at celebrations; in Hollywood - the unexpected deaths of so many young, beloved and talented celebrities …

Even in our personal lives, everyone I knew seemed to be dealing with something: health issues, job issues, relationship issues, children issues… no area went untouched; it was all fair game this year.

And it seemed like it wouldn’t let up; when you got over one bad news, another one appeared. And the new wasn’t just bad, it was usually really bad. Often times, it was unexpectedly, shockingly bad.

This says it all: LAD bible actually made 2016 into a horror movie!

Every year has its share of problems, sadness and loss though, so I don’t know why 2016 was just so tough. But somehow, it just was, for all of us it seemed. Maybe it is a collective fatigue. Or maybe it is our inter-connectedness on social media that we now feel everyone else’s bad news more acutely, a social empathy or recognition of all the sadness out there.

Perhaps it was also so difficult because, instead of relying on one another for needed support, we stopped calling, stopped going out, stopped talking... I seemed to notice that in 2016 we retreated into our own sorrow; we hid away from the world. Like crabs afraid of what the waves would bring, we buried deeper into our sand caves, which of course made it all the harder to carry our own burdens because we were carrying them alone.

As for me, in 2016, things weren't so awful comparatively speaking. But the last 6 months were mired with never-ending house problems, contract delays and very frequent vet visits. It was also a year when I lost pretty much all the homes I knew: my one in Rome last year, my childhood one, the new one in Montreal and then of course, my kitty, who was what made each transient place I went to a home. That was of course for me the worst loss: losing my Matteo, my travel companion and best friend for 12 years. And unfortunately, just turning the page on the calendar doesn’t make the pain go away.

One of my first blog posts about Matteo as my travel companion
That’s the thing about New Year’s: Health issues aren't cured at midnight. Jobs aren't found or fixed with a stroke. Pain doesn’t just evaporate. The new president still takes office this month. 2016, and its challenges, doesn't disappear overnight.

I don't want to put a silver lining on the 2016 cloud because I don't want to gloss over the pain people have felt and still feel from these issues. I do, however, think it is important to paint the full picture of 2016. And for me, despite sadness, I feel like I grew a lot last year.

I took this year to figure out what my calling might be, to understand what I wanted to do with my talents, my interests and my nagging desire to write. I finally seem to have it straight in my head that I want to be a writer, but I don’t want to be an author. I want to write one book, but not write books for a living. I like writing on behalf of causes. I don't like writing blog posts every day (obviously). All this is clearer to me now after a year of reading books, listening to podcasts, seeking out articles, speaking to people, interrogating friends and just generally overthinking (my trademark). I was searching to figure out what I wanted to do with this interest and I understand a little bit better now. So my goals are clearer.

In 2016, things were also clearer to me about marriage and partnerships. I think there are statistics out there about the first year of marriage being difficult, but I didn’t expect it. There were growing pains that I didn’t foresee. I think in the first year, conversations are sometimes laced with a certain defense mechanism, a type of edginess from the idea that you need to stand your ground or perhaps lose this point in this “rest of our lives” scenario. Everything is a bigger deal because it is setting a precedent. If you let one thing go, you could get stuck in that pattern forever. Of course, this isn’t the reality, but it is often how we feel: secretly at war, defending our own independence and former lives. But to make it past that first year, you have to put away the weapons. You have to realize that marriage isn't trying to kill your former unattached self. In fact, it is important to preserve those versions of ourselves. Marriage is about incorporating those versions of ourselves into our new versions and into our partnership. By 2016, I understood these things; the war had ended. I had found peace.

Our Christmas Day family Skype call.
We were in 3 different countries, but still took a selfie.
I saw my family a lot this year which reminded me of my priorities in life and the importance of a strong family foundation. I also saw friends, many of whom I have lost touch with. This is a priority I have been neglecting, and it is something that I have vowed to work on in 2017.

Faith played a huge role of support and comfort for me this year. In all my travels and my fear of flying, in starting over and believing that things would work out and especially in the death of Matteo, I felt more strongly supported and comforted than I ever have before. Maybe it is because I had to rely on it more than before, but the power of prayer, meditation and gratefulness is more obvious to me now than it ever has been.

With losing and changing homes so many times this year, I realized that I could make a home anywhere I want: Rome, Baltimore, D.C., Montreal, Guatemala etc. Living like a tourist has taught me that I can make the most of any place I am in. And that the important people in your life will be there no matter where you are, even if you have to make a greater effort.

My original home, Baltimore.
Letting go is a huge part of love, the hardest part of love. It seems counter-intuitive, but it is very true. It took me a long time to come to terms with letting go of Matteo. And I am still working on it. The instinct is, of course, to want to never feel that pain again. But I know that one day I will want another kitty; it is an important part of my life to love and care for another being/ living thing. It makes my life more whole. Perhaps knowing this, I might be more ready for motherhood than I thought. (However, I'd like to stress the perhaps in this sentence).

"A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner." 
It is unfortunate that there are periods in life where things just seem awful, difficult, dark and never-ending. I hated seeing so many of my friends dealing with such serious issues. I wanted their pain to end. By the end of the year, I too felt very worn-down and ready for a break, a new start. I may have learned a lot, but I was exhausted. I suppose this is how life works though. "a smooth sea …, what doesn’t kill you…, no pain, no gain..." Those sayings come from somewhere.

Back in 2007, another difficult year for me, when challenges hit, I often sunk or chose the easy way out. At least in 2016, I felt like I did rise to the occasion. I hope that 2017 gives new air to these wings and offers us some brighter, sunnier days to let them dry out a bit.