The leaves don’t fall from the trees in Italy. They don’t turn color. At least I don’t see it if they do.
Nevertheless, it is autumn, my favorite time of year. I’m seeing breathtaking photos of Oregon on my Facebook page from friends. The colors are dazzling, as they are every year. It makes me a little homesick. Will there be any color left for me when I return next month?
Here on Italy’s Adriatic Coast, autumn has also arrived. It’s getting dark very early now. I don’t recall a gradual decline of daylight. It just seemed to snap into place.
The air is also cooler, although I still walk around during the day in jeans and a t-shirt, eliciting comments from the natives. “Freddo”? they ask. I smile and shrug.
I’m eating more spaghetti than usual. Before long, my favorite spaghetti restaurant will be a memory. I haven’t had the nerve to visit my favorite kebab shop or fave pizzeria. I guess I’m in a bit of denial that I’m leaving.
I feel like it’s November 2014 all over again and I’m just arriving, lumbering across town with my luggage to my new adventure in my sparse little apartment in Alba Adriatica. All the newness and excitement seems to be reappearing, only as a memory.
How could a year have flown by so quickly? We all know that time flies. But this year seems to have moved at record speed. I feel wistful at the memory of being filled with the exuberance and excitement–and trepidation–of living as an expatriate in Italy. The joy of being in my culture and having my extended biological family so close. The excitement researching my biological mother’s family in Poland and Ukraine.
And now it’s coming to a close. I am not afraid of saying that there’s a part of my heart that wants to weep over my return. This past year has been more than I ever could have expected.
Before I left Oregon, I had a come-to-Jesus talk with God. (Is there such a thing?) I told Him I was not going to force anything, just go where I felt I was being led. And that’s pretty much what I did. No real preconceived ideas. With the exception of the research in Poland and Ukraine, I had no agenda. And even then, I didn’t know what would await me in Eastern Europe.
I think I was hoping for Moses-like mountaintop experiences. And you know what? I got them. But once again, they were wrapped differently than I expected. The difference is that this time I recognized them as such.
As I write this, my mind is swirling. My feelings seem to be whipping around my head in little cartoon-like thought bubbles, and I can’t grab them. Perhaps it’s too much to expect to be able to sit down and actually discern what I’ve learned, how I’ve changed and what I’ll miss.
But I’ll try.
I learned I can do anything. I learned that I’m still a stubborn ass; that can be a good thing and that can be a bad thing. I have to learn when it’s good to be a stubborn ass and when I need to let things go.
I learned that I am better than I ever thought, or allowed myself to believe, I was. I recaptured a bit of the old Bob Mulkey that existed many years ago. The one who believed he could capture lightning in a bottle and do anything. Somewhere along the road of life that belief became encrusted by doubt, abuse, insecurity and religious misinterpretation. But now it’s back, only in mature form, rather than in the flightiness of a young adult.
I’m going to miss my little town. I’m going to miss my little support system. It’s great to have the post office, train station, bank, coffee shop, laundromat, pasticceria, and seashore all within fifteen walking minutes.
I’ll miss accessing a completely different culture and language in only a three hour plane ride. How can it be that I can live in a devoutly Catholic country and, in three hours, be in a third world Muslim country? Or a highly advanced Germanic or Nordic country? How can there be so much difference between so many these nations that are so close?
In America, one must fly for hours. Mexico is close, but that’s it. Canada is basically America with manners. Yes, there are what can be described as different “cultures” in America, but still we are one nation and one language with one definable culture.
I’m going to miss the proximity to my family. But one positive thing that has come from this experience has been the love and closeness that I feel from them. It was there before. Now, however, I won’t miss them as much as I used to because they’re seared into my heart. When I leave, I will really feel like I’m taking them with me and I won’t be as lonesome for them.
The same sentiment above holds true for my brother. That alone was worth this experience.
So with each passing day I will notice more closely the mundane things about this little town, as well as this whole expat experience: the apartment building still under construction. The travertine piazzas. The cars parked on the sidewalks.
After I return, I’ll still have my photos and videos. I’ll have my dozens of blog and Facebook postings.
And I’ll have my memories.
And every so often at home I’ll be reminded of something in Italy or elsewhere from this past year. Maybe those travertine piazzas. Maybe the dog poop that no one picks up from the sidewalk. Maybe the young Syrian couple in Munich who were so emotional to hear about my journey to find my family. And I’ll smile because those memories popped up. It will mean that I haven’t forgotten.