A La Famiglia

When I left off, we were winding up our time on the mainland of Italy and heading for Sicily. Much has transpired since then. I could tell you colorful tales of our travels first through Sicily, then through a bit of Switzerland and France, and finally England. I could regale you with stories of what it was like to sail home across the North Atlantic Ocean on the only remaining ocean liner in the world, the Queen Mary 2. I could and I should share these adventures with my readers. The problem is, that very sense of obligation has created in me a frozen place. A place of not wanting to write, of avoiding what I am finally literally forcing myself to do: to sit down at the computer. And just do it.

I wanted to share the beauty of these places, my observations. The problem is me. Perhaps I have taken my own ability to live in the moment a bit too far! What energizes me when traveling is the immediacy of being there, in the midst of a new and exciting place. The thrill of getting there, the anticipation of planning, but finally, just feeling myself there, right in the nucleus of a different world. Happy.

Unfortunately, writing about it requires a distancing, a perspective that is impossible to achieve while being present where you are. Writing about traveling while you are doing it is akin to holding a video camera in front of your face for an entire show, then watching the film instead of seeing it fresh with your own eyes.

I have been selfish. I have chosen to be there instead of writing about it.

I thought I would pick up the thread when I got home, and fill you in with the details. Not ad nauseum, just the highlights. Some pictures. A few choice anecdotes. Poke fun at myself, because when you observe yourself in new surroundings, it can be really funny.

I haven’t wanted to.

I stand before you, humbly, in apology. We have been home more than a week. The thought of going back and regurgitating Sicily fills me with dread.

Maybe, over the past few months of being globetrotters, we have just worn ourselves down. That’s a real possibility.

I can tell you that my perspective has changed. When we set out on this experiment of being unattached to a specific place, nomads, as it were, I thought of it in terms of detaching.

What I have learned is that the more detached I become, the more attached I am.

But the attachment isn’t to a place, it is to my people.

If anything, not having a home base has made me cherish my loved ones more dearly, and to feel the connections as more grounding, more valuable.
People. And our love for them. Is there anything else more important?

The best part about Sicily was meeting Charlie’s cousins, and feeling that there was a relationship even though we were meeting for the first time. Laughing together, in spite of a significant language barrier, was wonderful. Being welcomed into their homes, fed, and treated like family. Wanting to go back. Wanting to learn Italian so I can get to know the women better. (The cousins are all males, but their wives were lovely.)



One of the benefits of retirement (or being on a sabbatical, which is how I describe my professional status) is that we have more time for what’s important. I have realized is that what is paramount for me is my feeling of connectedness, being a part of groups of human beings. My family is the obvious one, but also my circles of friends. The reason we keep returning to Isla Mujeres is that we have found a community there, of people we find to be kindred spirits.

But this: I feel pulled in different directions by my sense of connection with loved ones in different places. I have children in New Jersey, Vermont, and Boston. I feel a strong bond with Charlie’s daughters in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, also my children, though not by blood. Part of me wants to live in all these places. I have primary groups of friends in Vermont, New Jersey, and my new ones on Isla. How do I honor all of these connections and still center myself in one place?

Because one thing we have realized from our travels is that we do want to be centered, grounded in a place. Soon. We want to have a home base where, as well, we can welcome our loved ones with the same hospitality that has been extended toward us. The work that I want to continue – being a therapist as well as the creative endeavors that bring me sustenance – writing and painting – requires that I refill my emotional vessel. This calls for me to stand still and allow that refilling to happen.

My Dutch friend Agnes shared with me a comment that her doctor had made. He said that what matters when you grow older is not where you live, but who you live near. People do best when they have a community of family or friends, a support network. And, in spite of email and Facebook and texting and FaceTime, there’s nothing like a visit with a real live person to brighten your day. Especially if you love that person.

Tapping the keys of a computer will never replace holding a hand.

Does anyone else besides me feel this unrest caused by having loved ones scattered in different parts of the globe? What advice can you offer?


3 thoughts on “A La Famiglia

  1. Arlene,

    Don’t be so hard on yourself re not wanting to communicate all of your experiences at this time. If you decide it’s important, you will share those unshared moments as the perfect time arises one at time. Organically.

    No wisdom re distance. In this current society being distanced from friends, family and other loved ones is the way it is. There is no perfect place, no matter where you go there you are. We are very fortunate that we have these new ways to communicate. Of course it is not the same as being right there in the presence of someone you care about. It’s about continuing to communicate in spite of. Didn’t mean to wax rhapsodic!!


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  2. I enjoy your posts so much because I think that I would LOVE to do what you are doing, but I know in reality I would miss my roots being grounded somewhere. I am about to retire in less than a year and move 5 hours away from my children and it is killing me! It’s so nice to read your blog that talks reality and not just the fantasy of travel! Thank you!

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