Friday, January 23, 2015

Parole per Nadia

I learned a few minutes ago that a woman I tended to think of as my very own Italian nonna passed away in Rome last night.

When I walked into her home for the first time, having never met me, she threw her hands up exclaiming, "Ah, Amahnda, Amahnda! Benvenuto a mia casa!" She clasped my face in her hands and kissed me on both cheeks saying, "Che bella, che bella!" Regarding Sharon and I as we stood beside each other in all our Scandinavian statuesque-ness, she proclaimed, "Si guarda come sorelle!" ("You look like sisters!")

She was 88 years old then, in 2007, but she ventured out by foot in Rome's bustling downtown to gather up the accoutrements for each of our incredible meals.  I have yet to taste a melanzana parmigiana as incredible as the one she made us, crushing the tomatoes with her aged, tired hands in a rotary-like machine the likes of which I've never seen again.  I still order eggplant parmesan whenever I see it on a menu, hoping for it to be as good as hers. (No luck yet.  Boo.)  She was THRILLED that I was happy to eat all the things and stay to finish the vino; I remember my face being squeezed in pleasure each time I'd accept a second helping: "Mangia, mangia!"  (Yes, the Italians - at least my Italians - really do say that.)

I remember your amused smile that first time we stood in the kitchen; you had asked me about the basilico in the finestra and I kept looking out the window at the many church domes saying, "Si, si, capisco. I see them."  At least I thought I understood, until you walked over, took my hand, placed it on the basil plant in the window and said, "Basilic-o."  As it began to dawn on me, you pointed out the window to the church and said, "Basilic-a."  I felt so foolish and said in embarrassment, "Mi dispiace, Nadia, non parlo bene l'italiano, solo spagnolo," and you shrugged, saying, "Va bene, Amahnda. Si prova!" (It's ok, Amanda.  You are trying!")

Then there was the night we sent Roberto and Sharon out for a night to themselves, and you, myself, and Jillian played a game of trying to learn body parts in the different languages (we really needed a break from Jillian's Little Mermaid movie).  I threw in the Spanish words for fun and screwed everybody up.  Three generations of giggling girls, trying to pronounce strange new words, eating popcorn.  Such a great memory.

You washed my laundry whenever we'd leave.  Surely my own mother has folded my undergarments once or twice in my lifetime, but for sure no one ever ironed them until you. I remember trying to find the Italian words to tell you, "My goodness, you don't have to do that!", finally asking Roberto to please tell you for me.  He did so, but explained to me that this was how guests were treated in your mind and that you were unlikely to be dissuaded. (He was correct.)

I didn't have to be fluent in Italian to understand your stories or instructions: how your legs hurt sometimes, which dish or ingredient to hand you in the kitchen, how happy you were to finally have your family there in Italy with you.  How you had been a professional seamstress and run your own fashion boutique, where your Enzo came in to buy neckties one day and you fell in love immediately.  Such stories traverse language, and I remember Sharon and I wiping our eyes at the dinner table as you spoke of how much you missed him, somehow understanding each and every word.

Oh, my Nadia.  On my first trip outside the borders of my own country, I could not have wished for a more gracious and generous hostess.  Both then and in the several times since when I saw you in America, I always admired you. You were always dressed to the nines: hair, makeup, and jewelry, ever the fashionista.  My goodness, you flew by yourself, repeatedly and in your nineties, to a country where you didn't speak the language.  (Although there was that one time you answered me in English when I couldn't understand - busted!)  How worried you were for Sharon while she fought, and how badly you felt that you couldn't be here to help.  You met the great love of your life and "gave to the light" your only child on the cusp of your forties.  In recent years, your story gave me much needed hope.  

On the day I was to fly home, you were gone all morning, arriving home just in time to see me off. You handed me two packages of your favorite Italian caffè saying, "Un regalo, da me, per ti."  You hugged me hard and I embraced you tightly in return, and you didn't let go as you drew away, looked me in the eyes and said, "Ti ricorda di me," and then, in hard fought English, using your pointer finger to drive your words home, "You. Remember. Me."

Sempre mi ricorderò di te, Nadia.  Il mio cuore è così triste che ci hai lasciato, ed era la mia grande fortuna di conoscerti.

At Il Gallo Matto for Festa della Nonna
An evening walk, and gelato con panna
Christmas 2010
November 2013

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Loneliness Walks With Me

A friend sent me a link the other day about surviving singleness, and through a link in that article I came to this one, written by the same author.  All I can say is, YES, and I have to put it here because it touched me so deeply. 

Note—I am sure I do not hold a monopoly on understanding loneliness, all I am an expert on is my version.
I understand the loneliness of losing my father as a child and wanting him to be there, to mitigate the arguments between me and my mother, to be calm and strong and safe. I understand the loneliness of having a mother who was emotionally unavailable, so close I could touch her, but not really there for anyone outside of herself. I also feel the loneliness of losing my mother and loving her completely, despite her not-so-motherliness.
I understand the loneliness of being an introvert, of not quite understanding what the other kids seemed to instinctively know—how to connect, how to just be with their peers. I understand the loneliness of spending every lunch break in the school library. I remember the loneliness of somehow, luckily, making a friend, only to have them taken away by another girl, to be their best friend instead of mine. I understand the loneliness of nervously saying completely the wrong thing, brashly, rudely, gratingly. I understand the loneliness of sitting by myself, of not having a lab partner, a project group, a sports team.
I understand the loneliness of being loved and being left. I know the exquisite pain of being told, “I love you, but it is not enough.”
I am intimately acquainted with the loneliness of loving someone so much you have to let them go, because that is what they want, and you want them to be happy.
I understand the loneliness that is heartbreak and I understand the loneliness that is the aftermath of heartbreak—the yearning to return to the warmth and love that you once knew, but is now not available.
I understand the loneliness of lying beside someone when you love them far more than they love you. I understand the loneliness of lying beside someone when they love you far more than you love them. I recognize the loneliness after telling someone you don’t want to be with them, even when you really don’t want to be with them. The torturous loneliness of still being at least a tiny bit in love with one ex or more probably two.
I also know the loneliness of watching other families. Of seeing wives and husbands greet each other at the end of the day, of seeing children rush to show their parents a new discovery. I live with the loneliness of being a favorite sister and aunt but still not really belonging to anyone. I soak in the loneliness of not being anyone’s someone.
And there is more—I live the loneliness of solo travel, of living by myself, of dining for one. Oh yes, I understand all my forms of loneliness. The loneliness that greets me in the morning, that which shines with the sun or falls with the rain. The loneliness that goes in my grocery bag, the loneliness that buys my ticket for one. The loneliness that hops into bed with me at night.
This is the counterpoint to living in Love. Because it is actually my loneliness, among other things, that pushes me to live in love and it is the love that allows me to feel, appreciate and rise above the loneliness.
Kahlil Gibran said, “The greater that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” It is because I honor loneliness, and sorrow, and grief, and rage and all those other so-called negative emotions that I have such a capacity for love, and joy, and gratitude and forgiveness.
And so I live with my lonelinesses, allowing them to flavor my moments, allowing them to push me to live with the most intensity as possible. For better of for worse.
~ Tui Anderson
(original article:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dreaming of a little boy

We have another rider today, and his name is Soren.  I like names, especially uncommon ones, so I looked it up.  The Danes and Norwegians spell it "Søren, whereas the Swedes and the Germans spell it "Sören."  It actually descends, though, from the Latin "Severus," which means, "severe, strict, serious."

(And Severus comes from Harry Potter, which makes it automatically cool, but I digress...)

The meaning doesn't resonate so much with me, but I really like the name.  I have three of those four heritages, but I prefer the umlaut spelling.  I asked our student if he knew why his parents chose the name and he rolled his eyes saying, "Yeah, my dad's into the Swedish thing."  I asked if they had used the Anglicized spelling and he started to smile a little: "I spell it like this (points to his jacket, at the use of the "o" with no markings) but when my dad writes it out he puts the dots over the 'o.'"  I told him I thought it was pretty cool, which made the poor kid blush.

I don't kid myself anymore about what dreams for my life will or won't be, but just for a while this morning, I'm dreaming of a little boy named Sören.  I wonder what he would look like, how he would smile, how his giggle would sound.  I wonder if I'll ever get to meet him.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The crucial work of this world

My student and I were standing in Starbucks, waiting for our coffee and our breakfast, reeling a little from the start of our day.  My student was in a kind of daze, and I was repeating to myself, "Ugh please hurry with the"  Unfortunately, being in uniform makes you the center of attention and someone that everyone wants to talk to.

A perfectly nice older couple greeted us cheerfully: "Good morning!  How are you today?"

I cringed inside.  But I put on my smile and said, "I'm good; how are you?"

"It's a great morning!" the man replied.

I'm sure I said something like, "Yes, it is!"  At least I hope I did.

What I wanted to say:

"Well, since you've asked, sir, what I've done so far today is told a man that his wife is probably going to die."

What I did this morning was arrive at work nearly late at 0558, get greeted by a surprise student waiting for me in the cold, and find myself without a partner.  Said partner was out already on a cardiac arrest, and he was calling for more epinephrine on the radio.  I got in the spare truck with my student to bring the supplies, to assist, hoping for a learning experience for my student.  And then, after they loaded her in the truck for transport, having lost her pulse a second time, I offered to stay on scene to talk with the patient's husband while they took her away.  I took an elderly man's hand, introduced myself, and told him what was happening: my coworkers would occasionally get a pulse back when we pushed that one drug, but we kept losing it, so we were taking his wife to the hospital to see if the doctors had any further suggestions.  I told him I wanted to be truthful, but not falsely hopeful.  I told him her heart had been stopped for a long time.  Then I asked if he had any questions for me.

With tears in his eyes, choking on his words, he answered, "No, I understand.  I am really going to miss her."

With my heart crumbling inside me, I said the only thing we can say, the only thing that's true.  "I'm so sorry we couldn't do more."

His son entered, and I offered the same to him.  Then I picked up our terrible, terrible bloody mess in the living room and moved some of their furniture back into place while they got ready to leave for the hospital.

Welcome to EMS, new student.  This is the reality.

I feel like a shit for wanting to answer that way.  The couple was certainly right: if you wake up in the morning, you've half the battle won.  I also felt like a shit for thinking in regard to my student, "Trial by fire.  If you last today and come back tomorrow, you're gonna be fine."

Do I hate being that person, to say the words, to watch all the hope disappear from a face?  I do.  I am so tired.

Would I want it to be anyone but me?  I would not.

Could I not wait to take off the uniform when I got home?  I couldn't get it off fast enough.

Sometimes I can't imagine not putting it back on though.  Who will do the gentle, important, crucial work of this world?