So now that I have been back home in Umbria for three weeks (after a short academic year that felt like a long one), I'm wondering where to begin to resume this blog whose last posting corresponded to the previous university vacation. Despite the long list of topics that have been waiting for their moment, I find myself floundering about where to start. As a general topic, I'm thinking of my answer to the question, "But how do you spend your time over there in the Italian countryside? What do you do?" It was posed by the wise Dean of the the college of which I am a Fellow, and whom I have quoted several times in this blog. After thinking for a moment, what popped into my head was "I'm catching up with myself."
To catch up with myself has been an ongoing project--one that I expect to continue throughout my lifetime. An overly precocious child, I recall how my father used to brag about how "ahead of myself" I was, and it was only later that I came to realize that this was not such a great thing. Then there's the other extreme endemic to university life:the problem of getting behind. Middle-of-nowhere Umbria is an ideal place to try to find what the French call "le juste milieu"--a happy medium of being in touch with oneself and "in the moment." I see that type of balance in my vegetable garden, where it would be easy to rush in and try to kill every potentially bad bug. But contadino wisdom knows that that plan could really backfire.
In my rush to get to Europe to meet my first grandchild, I had to miss this year's Commencement, but I had an exchange with one of my favorite graduating seniors that feels like the right place to begin this summer's posts. He wrote the day after Graduation:
I have a small mountain of needlepointed pillows my grandmother made for me. Some of my earliest memories of Yaya are of her working patiently at her needlework as I busied myself at her feet with my Legos.
Yesterday, my grandfather gave me the graduation present my grandmother made for me. Yaya needlepointed it in secret and with great love last summer after she was diagnosed with cancer. Opening the bag and finding her last gift, this pillow, was so magical it felt like talking with her again. I wished so much for Yaya to have been there for my graduation, and her loving work was Yaya’s way of saying that, in a really beautiful way, she was.
(If you're lucky, every once in a 46-year career, a student like this comes along, and we are all sorry to see him leave us. He seems to be doing a better job than I did at his age in catching up with himself. I was so moved by his message that instead of working on my blog, I took some time to write back to him. But then it seemed right to have my message do double duty.)
I'm writing from my home in Umbria to thank you for this lovely piece, the first line of which is especially evocative;the second is also right up there. Like the beautiful pillow, I think it can be a touchstone for you as you move into the next phase of your life.
Your grandmother showed a lot of wisdom in creating these pillows for you. The last one is what we in Italy would call her capolavoro, to which the translation of "masterpiece" does not really do justice. Actually, come to think of it, you, yourself, have probably been a big part of her capolavoro. I'm sure she realized that the wonderful person you have become has been a gift to all of us.
Of course it works both ways. I understand this because I was lucky to have a sweet Russian grandpa I adored who used to entertain me with stories of what it was like to be in the Tsar's army, while allowing Little Me to "help" him with his work. This made me feel important, while probably adding hours to the job. In the old country, he had been a pharmacist, but could never master English enough to continue that profession in America. With a family to feed, he became a pants presser, and together, we used to match the tickets to each piece of clothing.
Like our years in the college, these formative experiences mark us and make us who we are.
MORE ABOUT COMMENCEMENTS
While on the topic of beginnings, I am often asked how I, a complete techno-dunce who was dragged kicking and screaming unto the computer age, happened to start this blog. Here is how it happened.
For my Christmas birthday of 2010, I received a great, non-exchangeable gift from my computer-savvy son and daughter-in-law. Fortunately, it was a perfect "fit."
If you think this looks like an old macaroni tray, you would be right. Why buy a card when you can create one from recycled materials? This was an offer I could have refused, but I am glad that I didn't. Knowing that the ongoing saga of how a lifelong Francophile ended up in Italy was a story I could tell, N and U helped me design and construct this site. They have also had infinite patience with all the coaching needed to keep it afloat. Now this was a gift that keeps on giving, and I am grateful.