For the last five years, whenever in Italy, it’s been a lot of work. Personal work, caring for my mother and her health, and business, family business that requires focused attention and dedicated, intense work. Add to that the normal “wear and tear” associated with family of origin interaction – even in the best of circumstances – and the result is a level of stress
My first coma was surreal. I think I was 11 or 12 years old. I woke up vomiting, one of the signs of untreated, deep hypoglycemia -a condition of low blood sugar level that happens with type 1 diabetes. Apparently my blood glucose level had dropped during the wee hours of the morning and I woke up too low. This being the first of such
This is what I remember. My parents fighting. My sister and I hiding, crouched at the top of the stairs, watching my father chasing after my mother downstairs, she screaming at him. Words children should never hear. Most of all, an energy children shouldn’t experience from their parents. An energy of tension and fear, spewed in the other’s face through the fangs of hatred. Or,
I was volunteering recording audiobooks at Learning Ally. I read from a book about forming identity in adolescence. I learned that Erik Erikson, in the 50s and 60s, created the psychological theory of how we form our identity that had the most impact on the psychologists and scholars that followed, for decades. Erikson is the one who first used the phrase “identity crisis.” New mainstream
“F*** you, piece of s***!” or something similar and fully spelled out. Don’t we often feel like saying it, yelling it and acting upon it against the person who just hurt us or promised us something and didn’t follow through? Last time I felt like this – yesterday – something funny happened to me. In the throes of feeling rattled and frustrated I closed my
Why do you think people are in awe of celebrities? Why do we look up to and are inspired by great actors, artists, writers, sports champions, successful business people? Why do we dream to be like them? It might be easy to think “because of their fame, wealth, lifestyle” and similar, but I think there might be a different answer. This is what I found
I walk into my mother’s room and she lights up with happiness. We hug, her body shivers with joy for seeing me after so long – one year, really, but God knows how long it feels in her mind. I hold her in my arms, afraid that she might break if I don’t. She keeps repeating my name, I tell her how happy I am
It’s a typical autumn day in Rimini, endlessly similar to many I remember from my childhood. My father and I would sail out at sea, in the haze and light breeze. The sea was flat, all noises completely muffled by our distance with everything and everyone else. And soon we’d find ourselves sailing in a cloud of calmness. The only intermitted sound reaching us in the
It’s 3AM. I just finished reading a book. I read the author’s note. I read the afterword. I would’ve read anything else, even the copyright address if it was written, but as I kept swiping the screen of my iPhone, the last page I read kept bouncing back. I learned that Rex Pickett is a real writer. I liked the beginning, a section in the
It all started in the universal mind of The Man Upstairs, where it became clear that every action has its corresponding reaction, effect and consequence. And that was called, Karma. As time went by, people forgot about Karma. They believed that we are not one, that you are different from me, that we are separate, that ‘here’ is completely disconnected from ‘there’. People came to
For the last five years, whenever in Italy, it’s been a lot of work. Personal work, caring for my mother and her health, and business, family business that requires focused attention and dedicated, intense work. Add to that the normal “wear and tear” associated with family of origin interaction – even in the best of circumstances – and the result is a level of stress that immediately reflects in my blood glucose levels (I have T1 diabetes), which start to swing up and down like I’m riding a wild, inner roller coaster. And I don’t like roller coasters.
So, to preemptively charge the inner batteries, the first week of our Italian trip is spent sailing to Venice. My wife, Annie, Lucy (the dog) and I arrive in Bologna, drive to Rimini with my uncle and aunt, Giorgio and Giovanna. We prepare the boat and set sail to Venice.
Sailing into Venice is huge for me. We motor through the canals to the marina Vento di Venezia, on the island of Certosa. (We end up docking near successful entrepreneur Mark Levinson – Kim Cattrall’s ex-husband – who gives us a warm welcome.) We go to the Venice Film Festival, where we meet up with friends, end up in the VIP section at the Excelsior Hotel, preparing for James Franco interviews and pre-party.
We meet people, say hi to friends and have aperitif by the pool. La Biennale (the major biannual international art exhibition that includes the Venice Film Festival) is in full bloom and Venice is canvassed with art installations larger than life.
We go to the world-renowned island of Murano, where precious glass artifacts have been made for over 700 years. We watch the historical Venice Annual Regatta, from a friend’s boat on the Canal Grande.
The sun and winds are generous with us as we leave Venezia toward Rimini, under spinnaker surfing on the waves.
I had heavy emotional memories connected to my father and Venice. Many of his troubles began in the water city where he spent years developing and launching the Tronchetto Island for what it is today, drifting farther and farther from us, himself and, eventually, life. Now, with this new experience of Venezia and with new eyes, the emotional load is washed away. The last time I sailed to and from Rimini was a life-time ago. Only the inner child that became the man I am now is the same. A different city, a different harbor, a different me.
We have to go back to Bologna and pick up a car rental at the airport – part of the logistics of the trip – and Annie, Lucy and I drive back to Rimini, where we will stay for the next three weeks. As soon as we arrive (back) in Rimini, before even going to our friend’s horse ranch – our Italy home away from home – we stop at Puro&Bio-Gelato Frutta (pure & organic-ice cream fruit. Vegan dark chocolate “veleno” is phenomenal) for our favorite gelato (in Via Valturio 39). (What?! But… What about diabetes?)
It’s a vegan, organic, ice cream (made from rice), fructose sweetened, that tastes like heaven and has the same carbs as fruit. Easy to compensate for (with insulin) and not obnoxious for the waist line. Healthy and sumptuous, we make it our “daily break.”
The horse ranch is a green island in the countryside immediately outside the now busy city of Rimini, just a few minutes from the downtown main square. At “il villaggio” (The Village), as we call it, live three generations of the same family, plus the ranch hands and fifty horses, give or take a few. The main couple, the grandparents and creators of everything here, are, Franco and Maria Paola. Franco was my father’s best friend and my father introduced Maria Paola to Franco when they were in their twenties. On September 15th we wish them happy 51st anniversary. It feels like a beautiful gift that my wife and I can enjoy the friendship and warmth of this family and The Village. (Thank you, dad. Always.)
For one reason or another, this year I don’t have time or space of mind to write anything with a beginning, middle and end. It feels like the faucet of oxygen to my creative soul has been shut and I find myself gasping for air. I am in a constant flow of things and people. We see old and new friends, and luckily Annie and I are very good at carving out time and space for ourselves.
We have our anniversary dinner in a gorgeous restaurant in La Vallugola, steps from the sea. Above us, a star-studded sky and in front of us, special feature, lightning storms on the water in the distance, which brighten up the horizon and take our breath away. We slowly dance before dinner is served, to our inner music, on the beach. It feels wonderful to feel home wherever we are.
We have the GPS voice set to talk to us in the Rimini dialect enriched with idioms and insults, which makes it hysterical, especially when Annie mimics it. We’re driving in the heart of Rome, one block away from the Trevi fountain. I’m not sure traffic’s allowed, but it’s Italy, and I assume that that’s got to make it okay, somehow. Our car keeps parting rivers of people and avoiding flocks of scooters and pedestrians. The GPS keeps calling me “Pataca!” (stupid) at every turn. Annie, I and Lucy are glued to everything happening in front and around us, some of us entertained, some worried about where we’re going and where we’ll end up (especially Lucy).
I love any chance I have to talk about my work, share the story and its experience, and connect to people through it. The interview is set at the bistro of the Teatro Quirino. We can feel the artistic pulse of the place. My soul relaxes and breathes during the interview, as I talk about this story that I love, hoping it reaches people everywhere, one person at a time.
As soon as the interview is over we leave Rome and after having driven 500 miles in the same day, we arrive in gorgeous Staffolo, in the Marche region. Another gift of my father’s (for which we are very grateful). A dear friend of his, Giancarlo, and his wife, Adriana, have a bed & breakfast, La Ciminiera country house. It’s become our favorite spot to chill and relax when in Italy.
It now has a man-made eco-lake (or bio-lago, made by Giancarlo’s creativity and ingenuity) where we spend hours swimming in the fresh water, laying in the sun, recharging our batteries.
Back in Rimini, as the daily ice creams follow one another, meetings with banks, accountants, lawyers, notary public, family members chase each other incessantly. But the prize goes to the meeting with a nun. The subject matter isn’t the soul, but the wallet.
Previously on “Nun in My Business”: the nun’s association owes my mother over six months of unpaid rental income and was supposed to have vacated the space nine months ago, thanks to Italian’s laws that make it super easy for a lessee to be (comfortably) delinquent. The company connected to the nun’s association is an empty shell and the only people in the by-laws are unreachable or are a resident in far away islands. Hollywood style, I call, email and try to meet with anyone who could unlock this situation, until finally I get a call. It’s the nun, and she wants to meet me. I’m happy to hear from her, but I don’t feel it’s God calling. Rather, I feel I have to lawyer up, which I do. As in the best dysfunctional relationships, where the emotionally unstable-energy draining-money wasting partner keeps demanding more arguing “poor me, poor me”, we are immediately presented with a barrage of requests “because the nun’s association has to feed the poor” (I’m not making this up). I laugh, inside, make a mental note to use it as material, and charmingly smile as I calmly say, “I’m very glad we’re meeting, Sister, and I appreciate your continued interest in the space. But just as you’re here to care for the poor, I’m here to care for my mother. Back home, in the USA, in a similar situation, it’d be a no brainer. I’d sue you for unpaid rent and lost business for half a million dollars, and quickly settle for something less.” The nun slips dark shades on her face and turns away. I continue, “But with the Italian legal system we’d be seeing each other in court for the next ten years, which isn’t in anyone’s interest. I’m happy to forgo the past and you vacate the place within the next 15 days. What do you say?” The nun’s head pivots to face me. Even though I can’t see her eyes I can sense the ‘forgo‘ part of my offer hooked her. One hour and twenty minutes later we shake on it, closing the meeting with a Hail Mary (I swear to God), along with my Jewish wife who proofs how great an improvisational actress she is. (It’s worth saying that at the time of my writing, they have yet to comply and continue looping on preposterous requests. I’m glad I lawyered up. I’m very sorry for Jesus and Mary, they deserve much better PR.)
The journalist is good, the editor in chief an old friend. The interview is fun and I’m happy it focuses on Annie and I, as a creative couple.
Then it’s Pantelleria time. Pantelleria is a small volcanic Italian island, some 62 miles southwest of Sicily and 37 miles west of Tunisia. Annie, Lucy, my uncle, aunt – who joins us a few days later – and I go for the first time to the island to view the dammuso (or damuso). Dammusos are the architectural symbol of Pantelleria. They were created in the 10th century A.D., evolved and developed up until the 17th century. A dammuso is made with dry volcanic stone walls. The walls are exceptionally wide to support the domes and vaulted ceilings, for the collection and canalization of rain water. The island is gorgeous, its energy is “sweet”, the colors and nature are magnificent.
Giorgio Armani has a big chunk of land here, near to where we stay, and artists like Madonna and Sting make it their frequent vacation destination. The volcanic vapors that come out from under the earth’s crust warm both the sea around the island and a spectacular lake, The Mirror of Venus (Lo Specchio di Venere).
We go and bathe as often as we can. We feel our bodies and skin nourished and enriched by the fresh water of the lake and its mud, or the warm sea water, that mix with vapors coming from the center of the earth.
My mother bought this dammuso in 1991, loved it, fixed and developed it. She, my sister and her family enjoyed it every year, until they stopped, eight years ago.
Imagine what we walk into when we open the door. Like in a horror movie, life had stopped exactly as the last person who visited left it. Clothes hanging – and rotting – outdoors furniture inside, curtains of spider webs in selected spots, geckos, and cockroaches so healthy and strong they seem on their way back from the gym and you feel badly you’re disturbing them. Most of all, the smell. It smells like abandonment.
My uncle’s eyes bug out, “Okay. We saw it. Let’s go.” Annie is carefully controlling her gut to avoid retching, inadvertently. Lucy sniffs around for a moment, then Annie sweeps her up to protect her from the unknown.
I walk around, slowly breathing in the remnant of a life once lived by a portion of my family of origin and their friends. Every room is so full of stuff I can’t get a sense of the size of the dammuso. Everything feels suffocating. Things are broken. I am flooded with sadness.
But as I keep opening doors and windows, a feeling of “possibility” flies inside my spirit, like an evening breeze after a muggy day. There is a specific smell coming from the thick stone walls that is, I don’t know how, reassuring. After all, the last eight years are like a grain of sand on the beach of time that these walls endured, and I can sense their reassuring strength. It’s very strange, but like a silent voice, I keep getting encouraging waves of energy from these walls and the arched ceilings.
When I step on the porch and look outside, I feel something I never felt before. A sense of pride, connected to the land. It’s a good stretch, over 21,500 square feet, with a beautiful westerly view of the Mediterranean sea wrapping around the island. Everything is overgrown and messy, but it doesn’t matter. The land is there and it’s beautiful. There are pear trees, apple trees, mandarin and orange trees, olive trees, and big prickly pear trees. And this feeling grows when I step into the giardino pantesco, a garden, typical of dammusos to protect the plants from the winds, that can be accessed from the living room or the porch, surrounded by lava stone walls with no ceiling. It’s big, it has two lemon trees, one fig tree and one medlar tree. I stand still and I can see the life that happened here and can happen here, once the roaches have been relocated.
I pick a lemon. It’s delicious.
My uncle says, “Let’s go back.” I’m not a real estate developer, a contractor or a builder, but I have one week and I want to get things done. “Let’s find who can do the work,” I say. Continuously showing up, taking the next action and following the synchronicity of the results, by the end of the first day we interviewed and got estimates from three gardeners/landscapers and two contractors. We pick the most reliable ones and the ones that quoted the best prices (budget is minimal).
The lead worker we hired is Bollo, the owner of the dammuso where we’re staying with Giorgio and Giovanna. He’s a builder by vocation. With a glimmer of pride in his eyes, he tells me the Pantelleria airport runway was hand-built and he was one of the men who laid and leveled the asphalt, when he was in his twenties. I immediately know he’s the right man for the job.
By day two we have excavators on the land, workers on the roof and gloves on our hands to clean out everything that needs to be let go. It feels very good to let go. Every morning Annie and I get up at 6 and by sunrise we are riding a scooter around the island to the dammuso. The early morning colors of the rocks, the island, the sea and the sky are absolutely magnificent and fill our spirits with powerful natural beauty.
Half way through the week I am exhausted and overwhelmed. The stress level is somewhat compensated by the heavy physical work, which helps keep diabetes is balance. Whenever possible, Annie and I jump in the pool, or cover ourselves with the magical muds of the Mirror of Venus, or relax in the warm volcanic waters in the sea, as the clock keeps ticking.
Four days (ten hours a day) and three truck loads of stuff-thrown-away later, and the dammuso breathes a new life, the life I felt at the very beginning. The space is clean, full of light, and feels really good. My uncle is shocked and impressed by the turnaround. I can hear the walls smiling.
Digging the land we find an antique clothes stone wash basin, maybe one hundred years old. In the giardino pantesco we find a rusty collection of ancient tools scattered around, and a WWII helmet. Annie and I sit in the clean garden in silence, feeling the space, looking around. We let the energy of the dammuso and its island flow through us as the sun prepares to set right on our porch. It feels beautiful.
When we leave the work that has been accomplished is quite exceptional. The dammuso is in very good shape and has enormous potential.
We had fun times, were filled by stunning natural beauty and met good people. One above all, Maria Teresa, or Cicci, the owner of the little cafe/bar/restaurant Cicci’s Bar, a place to visit if you’re in the town of Pantelleria.
Something accompanied us during our stay on the island, seemingly unrelated to anything else, the America’s Cup. It’s the oldest international sporting trophy, the most prestigious sailing competition for the last 160 years. A multimillion dollar event that saw the defenders of the cup, Oracle Team USA, competing against the challengers, Emirates Team New Zealand, in the San Francisco Bay. The boats, ultra-light 70 foot catamarans, foiling on the water at speeds in excess of 50 miles/hr, unprecedented in sailing history. The regatta has TV coverage so good it should be nominated for an Emmy. The USA found itself down 8 races to 1, to the best of 17. Every night we tune in on our iPads and iPhones, cheering for a highly improbable comeback (since New Zealand only needs to win one race to take the cup).
One race at a time, Oracle Team USA pulls off the impossible. We are so hooked, we make our restaurant decisions based on where we find free WiFi to watch the regatta. The day of the last, winner takes all race, we drive up to La Favarotta (go there if you’re in Pantelleria), on the top of a hill reachable through a very improbable road, especially at night.
Everything stops when Oracle Team USA sails through the finish line of the last race and wins the America’s Cup. The comeback has no precedent in recorded sport history. It make me feel that, showing up with a clear goal in mind has tremendous power.
Back in Rimini for the last week we get our daily gelato, but we come back to a sudden winter, as if autumn happened the week we were in Pantelleria and now it’s a cold, humid and rainy winter.
The last days find me tired and looking forward to going back home. We have done a lot of work, been interviewed, sailed, celebrated, had wonderful times, shared great times with friends and family, ate awesome vegan gelato and visited beautiful places.
Now it’s time to go home and tell some stories.
My first coma was surreal.
I think I was 11 or 12 years old. I woke up vomiting, one of the signs of untreated, deep hypoglycemia -a condition of low blood sugar level that happens with type 1 diabetes. Apparently my blood glucose level had dropped during the wee hours of the morning and I woke up too low.
This being the first of such deep hypoglycemia conditions, my mother didn’t think the symptoms were connected to diabetes. She saw me vomiting and she called the family doctor, who was well aware of my diabetes. He and his bloated beer belly diagnosed me as having a “high acetone level” and gave me a pill. As if time stood still for a second, my mother and I locked eyes and we intuitively agreed that the pill was the perfect solution for absolutely nothing.
Meanwhile I kept feeling my body heavier and heavier and I kept wanting to close my eyes, but I knew that if I did my mother would’ve lost her mind. So I kept pushing my eyes open.
I couldn’t eat anything, because I’d immediately throw it up. She put me in her big bed, where I felt extremely comfortable (my sister and I were never allowed in her bed). I was sweating, kept feeling weaker, my eyelids felt like they weighed close to a pound by now. I kept forcing my eyes open and, with the thin sliver of my brain that was still functioning, I kept repeating, “It’s okay, Mom. Don’t worry, I’m okay.”
Then I heard her pick up the phone and call my uncle, Giorgio. “I don’t know. I gave him sugar but he can’t keep anything in. He’s sweating, pale like death… Yes, the doctor came- gave him a pill!” (Imagine all of this -and more- in Italian, spoken by a terrified mother, on the verge of losing her mind while trying to save her child.)
My uncle, a talented and renowned heart surgeon (famous for having successfully transplanted 7 organs on a 16-year-old), was in Rimini, Italy, where I was, and he showed up at the house very quickly, with a glucose IV. He never spoke much, like an experienced, lonely sailor who goes about his job on the boat without talking much. “E’ ipoglicemia profonda. Gli faccio una flebo.” (“Deep hypoglycemia. I’ll get him on an IV.”) I remember him saying, while my mother kept repeating, “Oh mio Dio, ti prego- grazie Giorgio- mio Dio…”( “Oh God, please- Thank you Giorgio- My God…”)
I don’t know where my father was during all this, but he’s not in my memory.
By now I was feeling like I had one teaspoon of energy left in my entire body. I wasn’t at all scared. I was interested to see what was going to happen, and worried for my mother. I kept glancing at her to make sure she was okay. Then, I felt the big hands of my uncle wrap around my right arm, and when the needle of the IV entered my vein and the sweet juice started to flow into my blood, I saw a glimmer of hope bursting in my mother’s eyes.
That’s when I felt it was okay for me to let go, and I finally closed my eyes. Like the air that progressively runs out of a syringe as the piston moves down, I felt my life energy flow out of my body from my head, down to my neck, my torso, my hips and legs, my feet and when I felt the last bit ooze out of my toes I knew I would’ve passed out. With hindsight I wish I saw a light, or heard a voice, or something life transforming. But it all simply went to black.
Six years later my uncle saved my life again, when I crashed into my second hypoglycemic coma, on the final leg of an intense three-month long sailing experience, during which “balance” was a concept that only applied to the boat -not to my sugar levels. I woke up after a night of partying, ready to set sail from Bonifacio, in South Corse, to Italy. I asked, “What’s the course today?” and I fell to the floor as if I were a 170lbs rag doll. Again my uncle, with the help of a friend of mine, brought me back. Four hours after I came to, we were sailing in the middle of the Mediterranean sea with gail force winds. (Please do not try this at home.)
On the other end of the spectrum, the opposite experience to a hypoglycemic coma happened to me when I was 13 or 14 years old. At the time my sister and I were living with my father and suddenly my blood glucose levels started to be crazy high. We immediately tighten control over my food intake, but that did nothing. We gradually increased insulin, the higher the dosage the more terrified my father was of a sudden hypoglycemia that would’ve shot me back into another coma. But weeks kept going by, insulin kept increasing and sugar levels kept rising uncontrollably. It was maddening.
At the end of his rope, my father decided it must’ve been my teenage hormones kicking in and surrendered. He called the hospital, the Inselspital, in Bern, Switzerland, where they had been following me since inception.
When we got to the hospital and explained the situation, the doctors didn’t have much to say, other than (in a thick Swiss/German accent), “Ve haf to keep him here. Ve vill keep obzerfing and testing him until ve fint vhat iz happening.”
I remember my father’s face washing over with terror. His worst nightmare was going to come true, much sooner than he expected, and he’d see his son deteriorate and succumb to diabetes. He asked, in a shaky voice, “My son has school, how long do you think we have to be here?” When what he wanted to know was, “Is this it? Is this how I’ll lose my son?”
One of the doctors answered, “Ve do not know.” And I interjected, “I don’t care how long it takes, I won’t leave until you fix it.” Then to my dad, “You and mom can go home, I’m good here. I’ll be fine.”
My positivity and determination helped everyone, including myself. My parents would alternate visiting every other week. I spent most of the time alone. The nurses were sweet. I think I had a crush on one of them, she had bright green eyes. I was given a special permit to take walks outside the hospital. I remember the clean and orderly streets, flanked by flowers and trees. The cold air, the homes and architecture, very different from Italy. The smells, the trams, the rhythm of the Swiss German language. It was the first time, since birth, that I was surrounded by an ocean of words that I didn’t understand. I never felt scared. I felt curious, and often lonely.
But instead of focusing on the solitude, I looked around and I’d find things I liked. A tree. A girl. The color of the sky. The feeling of the fresh air. Something different and unusual that caught my eye. Anything. When my father asked, “How are you?” I only told him about all the things I liked about being there, and he looked at me with a visible dose of admiration and said, “Sei bravo a fare buon viso a cattivo gioco.” (“You’re good. You put a good face on a bad game.”)
I had been at the hospital for four weeks, or maybe more. I had lost a lot of weight due to smaller food portions and the incapacity of the body to metabolize food given the runaway blood glucose levels. My parents were beginning to lose hope. Until one evening I called the nurse and asked for a new vial of insulin since the one I was using from home had run out. She gave me one. I took the shot, and in no time I was in hypoglycemia.
I don’t think a hypoglycemia was ever more celebrated than the one I had then, in the history of hypoglycemia. For the first time in months insulin had finally had an effect on my body and my blood glucose levels came down! It felt like it was everyone’s birthday. We thought of making that day a family holiday. We wanted to send thank you cards, but we didn’t know to whom. My mother and father shared something that for a moment felt uncomfortably close to happiness and gratitude. And then we dared ask, “What happened?” And the doctors said, “Apparently ze batch of inzulin you vere uzing vaz defectiff. Vhen you changet it viz one of ourz, it all vent back to normal.”
Nowadays, people are well aware of the possibility of insulin being/going bad, but back then, I guess, it was a novelty and it threw us all for a major loop.
In my teens, I didn’t like smoking, even though I tried, in a flawed attempt to emulate my father. I didn’t understand what people liked about beer. I had no curiosity for alcohol in general. I had no desire for drugs. I already was super sensitive, to begin with. I was already sticking a needle in my body every day. Every hypoglycemia was a trip and some of them were an out-of-body experience. I didn’t need to spend money to buy substances, I basically had a built-in system for magnifying life’s experience or taking a break from it.
The only thing that pushed the envelope during my teen years was sailing and some life experiences. The doctors said, “You know, with diabetes you can’t do what everyone else does. You shouldn’t do risky sports, and you should never be alone.” I nodded and I thought, “Not if I’m prepared.”
So I became a solo sailor, among other things. I was in the Italian National Junior Sailing Team for Laser, one of the most intense Olympic classes. I built a water-proof, small storage unit on the boat where I could always easily reach for sugar, snacks, Glucagon and my testing unit. I sailed with friends (on their boats) who knew I had diabetes.
When I turned seventeen, I backpacked across the USA, alone. My mother objected loudly to the experience, but my father countered, “He’s got more sense than the two of us together. Let him go.” There was a girl in San Francisco I desperately wanted to see. I created the trip as a cool excuse to “stop by and say hello.” When I got there she was with someone else and my heart broke. So I came back.
When I was eighteen I sailed one of the most intense regattas in the Adriatic sea, maybe in the Mediterranean too, La Cinquecento. Five hundred miles, double-handed, no auto-pilot allowed (if you’re not a sailor, it’s a lot of work, a lot of stress, hardly any sleep for the best part of a week). My friend and I sailed a 55 footer (the same I had sailed from Sweden). He was fully aware of what to do in case of hypoglycemia, the boat was fully supplied with Glucagon and all kinds of diabetes (and medical) emergency supplies. We finished sixth over a fleet of over seventy boats, many of which didn’t finish due to the severe weather conditions we found. We got a trophy for being the youngest team of the race.
Hats off and thank you to my father for trusting me with the capacity to take the adventure. Granted, he had coordinated with the local aviation force to immediately dispatch a helicopter to come rescue us in case of a Mayday, anywhere during the regatta. But we can catalogue that under “good parenting.” I will always be infinitely grateful to my parents for trusting me, allowing me to experience life and follow my bliss.
Then, my father committed suicide, I graduated summa cum laude in something that has little to do with my spirit, and I entered my twenties with a roar of rebellion, anger, confusion and hunger for answers. And all of it culminated in a key turning point that created the beginning of the rest of my life.
• The above post is also published exclusively by permission on ami-diabetic.com.
This is what I remember.
My parents fighting. My sister and I hiding, crouched at the top of the stairs, watching my father chasing after my mother downstairs, she screaming at him. Words children should never hear. Most of all, an energy children shouldn’t experience from their parents. An energy of tension and fear, spewed in the other’s face through the fangs of hatred. Or, maybe, just something that’s better not to be experienced by children like the child I was.
My sister and I glance at each other. A fear and pain so deep, like a snare clenching my stomach, solar plexus and pancreas all in a ball, turning it into a pulp and yanking it out of my body.
I got mumps. My bed broke. I’m sure this has absolutely no importance in the grand scheme of things, but, for some reason, its image is hatched in my memory. The mattress was on the floor, surrounded by the bed frame, in the middle of the room. From the floor level, where I spent days on the mattress fighting the virus and its fever, my room felt bigger, and I felt lonelier. I liked when my mother came by to apply a black paste behind my ears. It was supposed to help decrease the inflammation. She and my dad were worried and that distracted them from the tension and anger toward each other. I liked my mother’s attention. Not that she didn’t pay attention to me. But in those moments her attention was free, without requests, I didn’t have to do anything. I just had to be there. On my broken bed, in the middle of the room.
Then they left. They went on a vacation, I guess to try to reconcile their differences. But, Acapulco fell way short compared to the work a solid therapist could’ve done for both of them. My sister and I stayed with my grandparents. Upon their return, my grandma said to my parents, “Chicco pees a lot. I mean, a lot.” (Chicco was my childhood nickname, it’s pronounced Kee-kko.)
Next thing I remember, I’m in a hospital bed in Imola, Italy. I’m diagnosed with pancreatitis. My father commutes back and forth between Rimini and Imola, to work and be close to me. My mother is worried and she is always with me. What Acapulco couldn’t do, my pancreatitis seemed to have accomplished in an instant. It wiped out their tension and differences to a blank slate.
And then I was diagnosed with Diabetes Mellitus (as it was referred to then.) I was seven years old and obviously had no idea what it was. They told me, “It’s a disease that will be with you… for the rest of your life.” And I thought, “Okay.” And that’s really all I thought.
I wasn’t worried, because I was focused on this miracle that was happening in front of my eyes, in the little hospital room in Imola. My mother and father were together, around my bed, and there was no fighting. It actually felt they were supporting each other, for an instant. And that made me happy.
But it lasted an instant, because then what I saw in my mother’s and father’s eyes was a film of tremendous yet muted pain, loss, a sense of failure and desperation that I didn’t know how to describe back then. It was mayhem, like an atomic bomb that exploded inside each one of them with the volume on mute. The only thing I could compare it to was that snare that grabbed my solar plexus when I heard them fight. And I immediately felt responsible for their pain.
Back then type 1 diabetes was considered similar to a 30-40 year death sentence. Instead of a new lease of life, it was like a life mortgage. You were given 4 decades of life, that you had to pay back as time went by, payments getting steeper and steeper, until your system failed and you gave your life back. Now we know this is not true, at all. With the right awareness and management, one can live a long and healthy life, like anyone else. But this wasn’t the case then, and my parents looked like I had been given a death sentence.
Yet, they managed to be absolutely great with me, and for this I will always admire them and be grateful. They never made me feel like I was sick, or “less then,” not normal, or that I would’ve lived less than anyone else. And, to my merit, I never felt like that was the case, to begin with. I always felt like, “Okay, I have this thing, I’ll take care of it.”
No one that we knew in our family, immediate or distant, had diabetes. I always felt that the emotional component played a huge role in what we could only guess could’ve been a presumed, distant genetic predisposition in my body. But we didn’t worry much about “Why?” We focused on “What now?” I investigated and meditated about the why’s later in my life, but not at this time.
As soon as we got back home, my parents got a nurse who’d come to give me the insulin injections every day. After the first week, as she was about to push the needle into my leg, I grabbed her hand, took the syringe and said, “I’m going to have to do this all my life, I might as well start now.” And from that day on I always gave myself my own shots and became very active in taking care of myself.
Sugar levels were tested through urine, in a sequence of tests, tablets, vials, dropper and colorful results that made me feel like a scientist each time I had to pee. My father buried his pain and sense of personal failure into every possible book he could put his eyes on. He wanted to understand this thing called diabetes, wanted to know all the alternate solutions, study all researches around the world, find the best specialists, hoping to provide me with the best assistance possible and trying to wrangle his pain to a more manageable level. For several years I would tell him my sugar levels every day, and he would tell me how much insulin to take. Even when he moved out of the house and my parents separated, we kept doing this. It was our tie, what kept us connected.
He found the best hospital around at the time, the Inselspital, in Berne, Switzerland. I went there once a year for my first seven years. I remember Doctor Rossi, a chubby big man, and Doctor Schlessinger -not Dr. Laura- a slim and reserved man (they could’ve been the Swiss version of Laurel and Hardy.) I still remember the smells, the feeling of the hallways and the beds, how the food tasted, the walks I took in the city of Berne, and how I felt when my mother and father came to visit me every day. They were very good there. The doctors explained to us that the worst thing we could do was to keep it a secret and treat it like “a bad thing.” And for that, I’ll always thank them.
My mother immediately changed the way the entire family ate to align with my new nutrition regimen. There was a food scale in the kitchen, a big one, one you’d find in a butcher shop, a food scale that had to be reckoned with. My food plan and calories exchange table was posted on the wall and we all referred to it. My younger sister thought I was already getting too much attention, so she didn’t particularly care for it. But she always respected the fact that I had “this thing,” that it was real and needed to be taken care of.
Nutrition for diabetes is basically a balanced and healthy plan, so nobody in the family objected to it. Plus, if they wanted something I was better off not eating, they would still eat it, but it wasn’t often and nobody made a big deal about any of it. Back then there were none of the healthy, sugar-free alternatives that we are lucky to have today. Not even chewing gum. When I wanted a piece, my mother would chew it first, and pass it on to me when the sugar was gone.
For Christmas we had Panettone, the typical Italian sweet/candied bread, but I didn’t eat it, unless I was in hypoglycemia. I missed chocolate, although I had already distanced myself from it because it wasn’t good for my liver. Hypoglycemia was the time when I could eat what I usually couldn’t, if I wanted to. And I often did, and relished every second of it. I loved fruit, so I ate a lot of it when I could. I don’t have specific memories about the first hypoglycemic experience, but I remember the feeling. It was a feeling of “the energy being vacuumed out of my body,” like a “force” pushing me down. My father was super worried about it. We kept a sugar jar on my nightstand and I had sugar cubes with me all the time in a little pouch. I still remember the taste of white sugar dissolving in my mouth during hypoglycemia.
So, a day at a time, a urine analysis at a time, a hypoglycemia at a time, a shot at a time, a mouthful at a time I learned to stay connected to and take care of myself. Through diabetes I got more in touch with myself than I probably would’ve otherwise. But the path didn’t turn out to be linear and mechanical. It became much more colorful, dangerous and, with hindsight, entertaining. But this for the next blog.
• The above post is also published exclusively by permission on ami-diabetic.com.
I was volunteering recording audiobooks at Learning Ally. I read from a book about forming identity in adolescence. I learned that Erik Erikson, in the 50s and 60s, created the psychological theory of how we form our identity that had the most impact on the psychologists and scholars that followed, for decades. Erikson is the one who first used the phrase “identity crisis.” New mainstream theories followed, more current with the times, and so on and so forth. In very simple terms, the basic common ground of most of these theories is that children and adolescents form their identity solely (according to Erikson) or primarily (according to others) from role models around them, people who children and adolescents admire and aspire to be like to, or groups they ‘identify‘ with (like religions, philosophies, parties and similar).
And my brain started to feel choked, while my heart felt caught in a snare of externalities and disassociation from self. More about the snare to come.
In a beautiful, powerful and revealing scene (ep. 2.6, Human/Need/Desire), wonderful Marlee Matlin, as the teacher of a school for hearing impaired teens, asks her students in sign language (I’m paraphrasing), “If someone invented a pill… and tomorrow you could have your hearing back at once, how many of you would take it?” The camera pans on the students. None of them wants it – except for one, one of the lead characters of the show, who’s conflicted – which is dramatically great for the show. But here’s my point: when Marlee asks, “Why (wouldn’t you want your hearing fully back)?” One of the answers is, because we live a fuller, deeper life without the sense of hearing - which I understand personally, and it’s great. But another answer is, “Identity.”
And that’s when I felt the snare tear at my heart and soul.
Not because of the show, naturally. The show’s great. But because I felt it is such a widespread situation, to identify ourselves with something that we have, do or believe in. Instead of with our-self.
See, I have diabetes since the age of 7. I know exactly how much richer my life has become because of all the emotions, lessons, higher connection with myself and others, and shades of life induced by diabetes. I also know how great a compass it has been to guide me toward a healthy and balanced way of life. It made me more sensitive, more attentive, more alert, more understanding of myself and others. All wonderful things. But is diabetes my identity? Do I need diabetes to feel my identity? Absolutely not.
I AM not a diabetic. I have diabetes.
I AM not Italian. I come from Italy.
I AM not a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, an Atheist. I believe in a religion or another, or none. I come from a culture or another.
I AM not deaf. I have a hearing condition.
I AM not a man, or a woman. I have a sex, a gender.
I AM not an actor, a writer. I do those things.
The only thing that I am is that I AM.
That’s it. And in that I find my identity. Only and absolutely. The fact that I exist, now and/or always, is my identity, and it fulfills me.
Everything else is stuff that I do, believe, or have. Everything else are labels, not identity. They aren’t me. These external things can not be me. Because, I believe, I am all those things, not just one of them.
If I identify myself with and define my identity by something or someone outside of me, then two things are certain: 1. I discriminate between me and those who don’t identify with the same thing, and, 2. I’m bound to “lose my identity” if that external thing changes. And neither of these things are the pillars for happiness, or love.
I love and loved my father, respected him, looked up to him. He was a brilliant man, an innovator, with a gigantic heart, who changed the lives of many people and families for the better. People loved him and still talk about him. I identified with him. I proudly identified with him. Then he became a drug addict and killed himself, leaving the family on the verge of financial collapse.
And that’s the first time I felt the grasp of that snare of externalities and disassociation. I felt the earth gape open under me and I felt I could’ve disappeared. My identity was gone, and not in a pretty way.
Most say identifying with a group, a religion, a belief, a profession gives us a sense of belonging. True. But if that “belonging” becomes one’s identity, then it’s the foundation for unhappiness, or “false happiness”, or stress and neurosis, because, first and above all, we have to belong to ourselves.
Obviously Erikson coined the phrase “identity crisis”, because based on that understanding of self, as soon as you need something OUTSIDE of you to define your identity, you’re bound to have a crisis, or a neurosis, or a psychosis, if you are at all awake. But there can’t be an identity crisis if your identity is YOU, the being who exists, in this moment, with all your colors, shades and dimensions.
The second I say, “I am a Catholic,” for example, I instantaneously set the ground for discrimination, judgment, separation, against anyone who isn’t. If you don’t believe me, read about the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition. Switch religion, turn on the TV, and read about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict started almost ninety years ago. Switch point of view, and you have the holocaust.
If “I am a father/mother” and identify with it, I’m bound for an ‘identity crisis’ the instant my child leaves the house. Or I become super controlling and possessive, trying to prevent the child from ever really leaving me.
If “I am a ______ (fill in with any job title)” I constantly feel threatened by anything that might or will take my job away.
If “I am young”, I’m setting myself up for tragedy, unless I can convert my depression into something similar to the show “Nip/Tuck” and find fulfillment in it.
The instant I say, I’m an actor, and identify with it, I should immediately make reservations with a top therapist or find the closest twelve step program, for times when work fluctuates or I get a bad review.
If I say I’m a hearing impaired person, to some degree or another, I don’t connect with those who hear well, I don’t trust them, I judge them. If I find my identity in it, to whatever degree, the second I heal, I suddenly “don’t know who I am.”
Really? Can any of this be the foundation for a truly happy and loving life or world?
I don’t say, I’m a diabetic. I say, I have diabetes. That’s a wold of difference. I am me with or without diabetes. I learned from diabetes things and life lessons I probably would’ve never learned had I not had it. But would I give it up if I could? Of course. I already learned those lessons. I will not be less without it, I will continue to BE ME, and will be off to new experiences.
But there was a time when I thought, for example, “I wonder if without diabetes I’d be an addict (like my father).” And that’s when I wouldn’t have wanted to give it up, I preferred diabetes to the “unknown” of what could’ve happened. Because, back then, I didn’t have me, so I needed something ‘outside of me’ to hold-on to, to ‘keep me safe.’ And I didn’t have me because I had lost focus and got distracted and confused by all the labels I thought I had to put on, but never felt comfortable with.
This is my experience: Identity defined by something outside of myself, only creates confusion and distance, from myself and others, by definition.
I like to be good at what I do and feel fulfilled, but I’m not what I do, believe, or come from.
And that’s plenty.
I obviously am very passionate about this subject because I believe in human beings and in our happiness. I would’ve loved to communicate all this in a much lighter and more fun tone, interspersed with witty jokes and wise anecdotes. So I’m going to use this card by brilliant Chuck Lorre from his beautiful book, What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Bitter. It summarizes in a pretty and tight way everything I just said, and even a bit more (click on the image to enlarge and read).
From my heart to yours, I hope that at least some of what I said helps you be happier to just BE.
“F*** you, piece of s***!” or something similar and fully spelled out. Don’t we often feel like saying it, yelling it and acting upon it against the person who just hurt us or promised us something and didn’t follow through?
Last time I felt like this – yesterday – something funny happened to me.
In the throes of feeling rattled and frustrated I closed my eyes and meditated. Yes, I do such things, because I’m that guy. As soon as the silence became louder than the chatter in my head, my mind took off on a tangent that surprisingly brought it all full circle, in a roller-coaster of non linear thoughts.
I have type 1 diabetes and this is how it works, quick and dirty. Glucose is what the body uses to create energy for the body and brain to function, like electricity for a lamp. Too much glucose in the blood is like a too high voltage for the lamp, the lamp burns out and breaks.
Most of what we eat is transformed into glucose by our metabolism. What keeps glucose at a level that can be assimilated and transformed into energy is insulin. Insulin is produced by the beta cells in the pancreas.
And then there are T-cells, a special group of our white blood cells, responsible for keeping our immune system healthy. They attack and destroy bacteria and alien organisms that would make us sick. When type 1 diabetes occurs, T-cells mistake the beta cells for alien organisms, so they attack them and destroy them, depleting the body of insulin. This happens everyday, continuously, and it’s called type 1 diabetes.
I thought, “If I could just talk to my T-cells and tell them how grateful I am for the great effort they’re putting out, but to please realize that they’re attacking their own, because the beta cells aren’t alien bacteria, they aren’t the enemy, they’re on the same team, they’re part of the same organism, we’re all part of the same organism, me. If my T-cells understood it, then I wouldn’t have diabetes anymore.” (quick side-note: Yes, there’s now plenty of scientific evidence that the pancreas continues to produce insulin even decades after onset, see faustmanlab.org, among others.)
And that’s when I realized, “My T-cells are confused, that’s all,” I thought. “They don’t realize we’re one and the same. They don’t understand they’re attacking their own, and because of it the whole system is worse off. If my T-cells understood who they really are – part of me – they’d see that the beta cells are also part of me and there’d be no reason to destroy them.”
That’s when my face shook with a smile, my eyes burst open and the meditation ended. “If we all understood this,” I thought, “if we all understood who we really are, that we’re all connected, all part of the same system, there would be no more wars, no more shootings, no more violence, no more trashing of the Earth. Because we’d understand that we are the T-cells and beta cells of the universe. We do different things, we look differently, but we are part of the same system and we are all better if we work together, instead of against each other.”
My body with type 1 diabetes is a micro-cosmic clear example of how truthful this is. So I don’t have to be angry at the guy who lied to me. I just have to use that experience to learn more about myself, be more alert, be more awake and move on, instead of stay stuck on it and want to “attack” – like a T-cell.
Far fetched? Well, on the off-chance that you’re still reading I hope it kinda-makes-sense like it did for me.
Now, during my next meditation I’m going to invite my confused T-cells to dinner, thank them for their continued good work and tell them how grateful I am for having allowed me to have this experience and the little epiphany. And I’ll also suggest, that if they want to, I’ll be extremely grateful if they decide to look within themselves and see that we’re all one and that they don’t have to continue destroying our beta cells, and they can use that ‘confused energy’ for other productive things. Of course I won’t force them to do one thing or another, because they’re part of me and I’m part of them, and, because of that, I love them, so they’re free to learn in their own time.
I think that’s called free-will.
Why do you think people are in awe of celebrities? Why do we look up to and are inspired by great actors, artists, writers, sports champions, successful business people? Why do we dream to be like them? It might be easy to think “because of their fame, wealth, lifestyle” and similar, but I think there might be a different answer.
This is what I found out when I asked myself, Why do I admire them, really? Invariably, the people I applaud the most have one thing in common: they look and feel happy, fulfilled by what they do. And that’s what I admire. The fact, or at least the idea they give me, that they love what they’re doing and they’re happy doing it. That’s what inspires me, really.
That’s why they seem indefatigable, they keep creating, because they love it and they can’t not do it. It would be painful for them to not do what they do. Take Woody Allen for example (and everyone else like him, in all fields), a creative force that can’t be stopped.
For someone like him doing something and failing is less painful than not doing it. “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” ― Woody Allen.
If you look at them, if you really listen to them and connect with them, you feel that they are happy, fulfilled, because they’re answering the calling at the center of their being.
Mother Teresa would’ve been miserable living in a lush Bel Air mansion if that prevented her from helping those she felt needed her help in the way she wanted to give help.
And the same would be true for Steven Spielberg. Granted he already lives in Bel Air or thereabout, but if you told him, “We’ll guarantee your yearly billionaire income but you can’t tell any more stories, in any form, no writing, directing, nothing,” I bet he’d rather take a pay cut than quit telling his stories. Because that’s what makes him happy.
And then, if what makes you happy can be shared with others, then everything can be even more powerful and beautiful.
It doesn’t have to be huge, though. It can be a hobby that you share with your family, or your friends. That’s perfect.
I believe that’s why we look up to celebrities, because not only do they do what makes them happy but they also share it with a huge number of people. The fame, the wealth, the lifestyle and the rest are all perks, byproducts of this simple paradigm: do what makes you happy and share it with others. The sharing it with others, the “putting it out there” is what brings about the perks.
In the beautiful story (based on true events) told in Sean Penn‘s film “Into The Wild”, Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) writes in his book at the end of his journey, “Happiness only real when shared.”
Now, I don’t go as far as to say it’s not real, because I believe we’re all connected, anyway, and if one’s happy that’s simply beautiful. But I’d certainly say, “Happiness more powerful when shared.”
For this year, and every year to come, this is what I wish for all: follow your bliss and share your happiness.
I walk into my mother’s room and she lights up with happiness. We hug, her body shivers with joy for seeing me after so long – one year, really, but God knows how long it feels in her mind. I hold her in my arms, afraid that she might break if I don’t. She keeps repeating my name, I tell her how happy I am to see her.
Finally she stops shaking and I let her go. Her eyes are moist with tears, I’m very happy to feel her joy. She’s a lot better than I could’ve imagined or dared to imagine. She feels like a little girl, maybe the girl she once was that needed attention and care which she never got. I take a breath and all I feel is the difference between the woman who raised me and the one sitting in front of me now.
Maybe it happens in most people’s lives when the moment comes that the parent needs care and attention similar to what the children once did. The cord is severed forever and I feel it’s a good thing. A very good thing.
Life’s very interesting. When time passes things look and feel differently, if we allow them, by existing in the present and forgiving or simply letting go of the past. If we could only “pan back” and remember this when we’re caught up in the heat or tension of the moment, we’d live a more relaxed life
A few days later we are walking barefoot in the Adriatic sea.
Breakwaters stretch along the coastline on the north side of the Rimini harbor, creating miles of calm and shallow waters for the pleasure of the millions of tourists that visit this beach resort every summer. It’s October now but the sun’s still warm and the tepid water kisses our calves as our feet push the wet sand on the bottom of the sea.
“So, how do we do this?” I ask the five experienced ladies digging clams out of the sand. A few toss back a challenging stare, trying to protect their stretch of water. “Look for two little holes next to each other and scoop, one inch deep.” The newest lady in the group instructs us with a friendly smile on her face. “Thank you”, I answer returning the smile. Annie, my wife, brought a ladle and a slotted spoon for the occasion and two plastic bags to carry the clams, which we fill with sea water. Annie takes the slotted spoon and starts searching for the little holes under the water. I offer my arm to my mother and we also start the search walking slowly in the transparent water.
It’s a slow, rhythmical sequence. We bend forward, dig and straighten up, then continue to walk looking for the next spot focusing on the sand in front of our feet. “Proviamo qui’” (let’s try here), I say. My mother bends to dig in the water pulls up the scoop and shakes it at water level while I pinch the handful of sand looking for clams. I can hear her breathing, I see her feet in the water and I feel how calm she is. “Niente” (nothing) she says with a smile on her face. Clams aren’t important. This moment is.
“Andiamo avanti” (let’s keep going), I suggest. We take a few steps until we spot the next pair of holes, and so on over and over again.
Time passes as gently as the light breeze moves the air around us.
We exchange a few words, we laugh, we dig again. Everything is calm.
After a while we meet up in the water a bit north from where we started with Annie, who’s also brimming with joy for the unusual experience.
“Ciao!” my sister has arrived and is waiving at us from the beach. My mother waives back and begins to walk toward the shore happy to see her.
Annie and I stand next to each other and look at the picture of this moment in front of our eyes for a while, until I say, “This, here, today, will stay with me as my best memory of my mother.”
It’s a typical autumn day in Rimini, endlessly similar to many I remember from my childhood. My father and I would sail out at sea, in the haze and light breeze. The sea was flat, all noises completely muffled by our distance with everything and everyone else. And soon we’d find ourselves sailing in a cloud of calmness.
The only intermitted sound reaching us in the distance was the fog horn from the tip of the southern pier of the harbor, like an immutable tooting guardian angel, happy to welcome us back home, anytime. These were the special times, times we shared and I treasured. Pure, without any interference.
I look out at the sea as we drive with the beach stretching to our right, as it begins its rest after another busy summer season. I tell my wife of those times and a smile sparkles in my eyes.
Moments later we’re walking toward the main entrance of the Rimini cemetery. They renovated and painted the outer structure, it looks very good since the last time I came here, over ten years ago. Just outside the gate there’s a huge and unique water fall. Angled at a few degrees slant from the road, it produces the sound of a small, calm brook.
Above the entrance is the latin inscription, “Resurgent”. I like it, I think for a split second, but I’m thinking of the soul, not the body as the Christian tradition instructs. I always thought that the idea that the bodies of the dead will rise again must have inspired the entire zombie culture and every zombie movie/story should pay residuals to the Christian, Jewish and Islamic establishments, as “story based on”. I’d change the inscription to, “Anima semper vivit” (the soul always lives), but that wouldn’t be the best tag line for one of the most consistently lucrative real estate investments of the City devoted to the keeping of the bodies.
The Pomodoro sculpture of the bow of the ship that keeps going, a recall to his movie E La Nave Va and the artistic legacy that will survive him for ages to come. When Federico got the first stroke that was the beginning of his death a few months later, he was at the Grand Hotel of Rimini (my family’s business at the time).
My grandfather called me very worriedly, “Federico’s sick.” “What do you mean, what happened?” I asked. “A stroke, we called an ambulance right away. They rushed him to the hospital. I don’t know if he’ll make it.” Giulietta survived his death but for a few months, then she left too.
I take a breath and I silence the chatter in my head. I take another breath as we keep walking and I try to remember where my father’s tomb is while my muscle’s memory guides us. I’m worried about what I might feel. Worse yet, I’m afraid to not feel anything. After my dad decided to end his life it took me ten years before I could shed a tear. Of all the stages of grief, numbness and anger took the longest, and confusion was a close second, so deep that it should be added in a category of its own.
We walk in silence, I hope I’ll be open enough to feel, whatever I have to feel, I keep thinking.
My feet drive us exactly to his spot and my heart jumps when I see his picture. We stop, Annie, my wife, to my side. We look, in silence. As soon as my gaze lands on his face, tears flood my eyes and stream down my cheeks, a smile shapes my face and a serene feeling of love fills my heart. Instantaneously.
I’m so happy to finally just feel love. I’m looking at that picture that for so many years only reminded me of painful things. But all I see now is my father.
I really wish that you’re happy, wherever you are, I think with a gentle feeling vibrating inside of me.
“Ciao Marco, I’m Annie”, my wife says pulling me out of my inner world. “Yes, Dad, this is Annie, I love her very much.” I continue, “You’d have liked each other.” Then we both dive again in a meditative, soulful silence scanning the details of his picture, until I wipe my cheek with the back of my hand and I say, “He had such great hair.”
Annie almost chokes on her sputtering attempt to repress laughter, while glancing around to make sure we’re alone. She looks at me, I smile without looking at her, knowing that all three of us would’ve laughed. And maybe we are.
We decided to celebrate this day, which is the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death, with his favorite cigar, a Toscanello.
We sit on the bench in front of his spot and we light them up. We let time go by freely, puffing, remembering, sharing stories, smiling, “You’d have really liked him. He was brilliant – even without the drugs, actually more so without. He was super sensitive and very gentle, with a huge heart”, I say. “Yes, I like all those things”, Annie says.
Before leaving I stand up and go close to him, I focus on his face in the picture, an unusual severe look for the man he was. After a few seconds, I can swear, I see his lips move into a smile.
“Thank you, Dad. For Everything. I love you”, I think out loud, and we walk away.
It’s 3AM. I just finished reading a book. I read the author’s note. I read the afterword. I would’ve read anything else, even the copyright address if it was written, but as I kept swiping the screen of my iPhone, the last page I read kept bouncing back. I learned that Rex Pickett is a real writer. I liked the beginning, a section in the middle and the beautiful ending of his latest book, Vertical (the sequel to Sideways). It doesn’t matter if I liked it or not. I read not just as a reader, but as a writer. I read it and I learned, and what I liked made it all worth its while. I learned that it’s okay, if not even good, to go straight to the audience, if you are a writer, and not wait for permission from an editor and a publisher. But I still can’t sleep.
Next to me in bed is my wife, Annie. I love her so much I’d want to wrap myself around her and whisper in her ear “I love you. You’re beautiful. I love you. You’re beautiful…”, incessantly, until I fall asleep, or she wakes up and we make love. But we just travelled across the world, almost twenty-four hours to get where we are in Italy. I know she’s very tired and I’ll do what I’d like to do now, tomorrow, after she’s recovered from the jet lag and the travel. As soon as l see her I’ll say, “I love you. You’re beautiful.”
Between us now, in the bed, is our dog, Lucy. She travels with us in all of her eight pounds, she sprinkles our days with lightness and laughter and immeasurable amounts of love. And she snores like a drunken sailor.
But tonight’s not her fault if I can’t sleep. We spent a night and one morning with my uncle and aunt in Bologna. We love them and always look forward to seeing them and spending time together. A few months ago my uncle had a series of health issues that floored him. One of the top heart surgeons in Europe, some may say in the world, he suffered from a heart condition, first, followed by an escalating series of complications to other parts of his body. At one point, the possibility of him not making it was a reality. He lost thirty pounds and is now slowly fighting his way back to the life he remembers liking. Sometimes he doesn’t know if he’ll get it, and depression is the worst enemy.
I didn’t ask many questions. I just hugged him, I told him that I know everything will be all right, to have patience and do the best he can, one day at a time. He said he will. I really hope he will.
My uncle’s my father’s brother. After my father’s violent death, one week short of twenty-five years ago today, I find myself with a love and an appreciation for my uncle that surpasses all the things I don’t like and would like different in him. I’m grateful for his life and I’m grateful to have him in mine.
We’re staying at a horse ranch of a friend of my father’s, in the countryside of Rimini. It’s a God blessed place, abundant with beauty and marvellous people. Three generations of the family live on the premises. Annie and I call it, The Village, where farm hands and animals mingle with thoroughbreds in the first months of their lives, before they get shipped to the sister ranch in France to finish their grooming and get ready to be sold to the best buyers. The countryside is glorious, the warm stones that make the walls of the centuries old home where we are, breathe an ancient breath of lives and seasons that come and go with the same infinite power of waves breaking on the shore.
I can hear a dog barking outside. I always liked the night sounds of animals, crickets, frogs, and, in the early hours of dusk, the roosters announcing the new day to the rest of the farm.
Tomorrow I’ll see my mother. I haven’t seen her in one year. I speak to her several times every week from home in Los Angeles. She’s always extremely happy to hear from me. She asks me about work, and love, how Annie is, and she asks me if I need anything, “Just tell me if you need anything”. I reassure her that all’s good, that Annie sends her love and that I love her very much and I’ll call her in the next few days. Before she hangs up I can hear her say, “It was my son, from Hollywood.” I have to time my calls carefully, adding the nine hours that separate us to catch her right before she goes to eat dinner.
Four years ago she started loosing her memory. Everything spiraled fast. At first I felt so torn as if my guts were being ripped out of me for everything that was happening. The tension was so high I stuttered for some time, before I found my way and how to deal with things. Mostly, I had to find how to deal with myself as I showed up for things. “If I need to stutter to release the excess tension that otherwise would explode God knows how else in my body or mind, I’ll stutter”, I thought. “I don’t care. As long as I can get myself to do what needs to be done, as best I can, one day at a time.”
Now my mother lives in a home. After several trials, she’s now well enough to go through her days, allow people to take care of her, wash her, feed her. She takes her meds, she takes walks with a nurse, she is well with the rest of the people around her, enjoys seeing my sister and her children and when she talks to me on the phone she’s always so happy to hear from me, asks me about work, and love, how Annie is and she asks me if I need anything.
The question is, will she recognize me tomorrow?
I’ll try to sleep now.
It all started in the universal mind of The Man Upstairs, where it became clear that every action has its corresponding reaction, effect and consequence.
And that was called, Karma.
As time went by, people forgot about Karma. They believed that we are not one, that you are different from me, that we are separate, that ‘here’ is completely disconnected from ‘there’. People came to believe that if they stiff someone, for example, the effect of that action is just on the poor slob who got stiffed and they can walk away scott free.
The relentless repetition of this careless behavior started to get Karma pretty pissed, because nobody likes to be ignored. Especially a universal law.
In the omnipotent mind of The Man Upstairs it became apparent that some drastic action needed to be taken to awaken the unaware people, before all of creation spun into total chaos.
Finally the grand solution was channeled through the brilliant mind of Annie Wood.
And that was called, Karma’s A B*tch.
I – as Mr. Linguini – had the good fortune of meeting Karma when my mind wasn’t yet aware. But it took me no time to connect the dots. And so it is for many people, like Eddie, for example, while others require ‘proof’ and time to let go of their skepticism.
This is what happened, at the beginning (click the link or the picture): Karma’s A B*tch – Meet Karma
Fly with Karma: Selected by Virgin America as “Best of the web”.
And this is what happened to Mr. Linguini when he discovered how sweet good Karma is (click the link or the picture): Karma’s A B*tch – A date with Mr. Linguini
Catch up on the series (3 more episodes to the season finale), meet The Man Upstairs, other Beings and follow Karma on her mission: