La Vita e’ Triste

photo.JPG JackAnna

Over the past week I have caught myself repeatedly muttering, “La vita e’ triste.” You see, my Roman mother-in-law Anna is visiting for the month of June. Over the years, despite Anna’s broken English and my inability to speak Italian, the two of us have forged a means of communication that works.  Sometimes we speak through silence.  Most times I lean on Anna to translate whatever she wants to say into English, and, on rare occasions, I shamelessly attempt to articulate complete thoughts in Italian.

Despite Anna’s joy over seeing us, there is always an undertone of sadness to her visits.  Her son and her grandchildren live in the United States; she lives in Italy.  Piergiorgio left Italy almost twenty years ago and has not returned home.  He will likely never return to Italy, at least not permanently.  He is American now.  His children are American.  And, while I am blessed to have him, his mother has suffered greatly.  Piergiorgio’s mother and father (who we lost far too early) were wonderful parents.  They gave him and his brother beautiful childhoods.  They were good and loving parents who placed their children above all else, and yet that was not enough to keep my husband with them.  Piergiorgio’s is an adventurous spirit.  There was something that called him here.  Unfortunately, with my happiness, came Anna’s sufferance. Where there is great joy there is also great pain.  Such is life.  La vita e’ triste.

I am so puzzled by life.  Recently my son inquired, “Mommy, why is God a bully?”  He continued, “You know Mommy.  Why does he let us love people and then take them away?  Why?”  I have noticed that Jack has been preoccupied with aging. My father, who will turn seventy within the next couple of weeks, is Jack’s best friend.  He and my mother also suffer from Parkinson’s disease.  This weighs heavily upon my son.  Jack knows that we do not live forever.  He cannot reconcile himself with the fact that, while we were gifted with the capacity for incredible love, those we love will be taken from us.  Why?  I was caught off guard.  How do you answer that? How was I to answer that?  I responded, “Don’t worry Jack, we are all reunited in Heaven with those we love.”  But Jack does worry.  I worry.  What is the point?  Why would a benevolent God allow, nay…create, such a painful life? We are born; we love, we rejoice; we suffer; we lose; we die.  La vita e’ triste. 

Of course, there is great, unbearable, catastrophic sufferance, and then there is the gentle sadness of living.  I wouldn’t dare to even venture into the topic of the former.  That I cannot even begin to comprehend.  I am talking about the small things we all suffer as part of the natural course of life. As young children, we are forced to ride the tides of life.  We change schools and say farewell; we move to new homes and say farewell;  we lose grandparents and say farewell.  As young adults we move away from family and say farewell.  As parents, we devote our lives to our beloved children and then release them into the world, only to be left empty and alone.  We continue to say farewell.  As elderly, we say farewell to friends and spouses.  We witness ourselves become obsolete even as we continue to live and breathe.  La vita e’ triste.

And all the while, despite all this sadness, we rejoice.  Babies are born; friendships are formed; lovers are wed; beautiful music is created, delicious food is consumed.  We laugh heartily.  We enjoy sunrises and sunsets. We cradle our infants and cuddle our children.  We sing.  We dance.  We enjoy this beautiful life.  So how is it that life can be so, so sad?  This is the great paradox of living.

I think of one of my favorite pieces of music,  Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa.  It is a work full of silences, silences which fill the listener with anticipation and excitement.  These silences are followed by the intensely beautiful and melancholy strains of the violin.  The violins pulse like metronomes, speaking the language of love and passion as they count down time.  Everything is finite.  All must end. The music tells us so.   The end of the first movement of Tabula Rasa, entitled “Ludus,” is so dark and forbidding that I almost cannot bear to listen.  And then, like angels whispering from the heavens, the second movement, “Silentium” begins.  And it is peaceful and sad.  As I listen, I picture a lover cradling his dead beloved, all the while, angels sing the sad song of finality and eternity. 

After listening to Tabula Rosa, I feel more human, happier, sadder, more complete and more understanding.  Perhaps that is the point.   To understand this life, with all of its joy and sufferance, we must view it and listen to it, as we view and listen to a work of art.  We must be detached, apart from, yet fully emerged.  We must understand and embrace life’s intrinsic sadness.  We grow old.  We love.  We lose.  We laugh.  We cry.  We live.  This is life.  Such is life.  In our final act, we die and others lose and suffer.  La vita e’ triste.

Yet, there is beauty in our delicate frailty.  Joy, sadness and loss is part of our human condition. In order to appreciate this life we must observe it, as if lying supine under the surface of water, and watch life unfold above, knowing we are hopeless as the currents move us in directions beyond our control.  In our hopelessness, we relinquish control and cherish all of it.  Life is wondrous.  Life is beautiful.  Life is sad.  La vita e’ triste.

Happiness: My Gift to Myself for My Fortieth Birthday

40th Bday Blog

This past Saturday I turned forty.  I woke up in the morning and asked myself, “How the hell did this happen?” I have always had a Peter Pan complex. As a child, when other little girls my age said they wanted to be mothers or brides or teachers, I thought they were insane. Why in God’s name would anyone actually want to do any of that?  Being an adult didn’t look like any fun.  I just wanted to remain a kid..forever. For years, I wished that I would remain young. Of course that was one wish that would never be fulfilled unless I was going to sell my soul to the devil in return for semi-eternal youth. I had to remove that option from the table, however, because someday that  pointy tailed, pitchfork carrying psychopath would come to collect my soul as payment for all the wrinkle free years I was granted, and, frankly, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am really, really, really afraid of the devil. I also considered, but later determined that it was also highly improbable, that I would find an artist to paint a portrait of myself as a youth which would age for me.  Of course, I would hide it in my attic so no one would discover my secret, but, as we know, the whole aging portrait in an attic thing didn’t work out very well for poor debauched Dorian Gray.  Occam’s razor my friends, Occam’s razor.  The simplest choice is usually the right choice.  Portraits and artists and deals with the devil are just too complicated. 

So I grew up and aged. I don’t look as grizzled as I expected to when I turned forty, but age I did.  And this brings us to the day of my fortieth birthday.   Giorgio had to work all day and it snowed..a lot.  The kids, Ginger and I were snowed in on my birthday, with no hope of going anywhere or doing anything special. Despite the fact that we weren’t going anywhere, I put on my new faux leather leggings (they just make me feel good) and the kids and I made gingerbread houses. And at some point during the day I had a startling revelation…I was happy!  Not just happy in the moment (being with my kids has always filled me with joy; I just adore them) but happy in life, happy with myself, just plain old happy. 

The funny thing is that I haven’t really been happy since I was ten years old.  Over the past thirty years I  experienced supremely joyful moments, the greatest moments in my life in fact, as in the birth of my children, but pure complete happiness had eluded me. Over the years I, along with stress, neurosis, perfectionism, insecurity, anxiety, and fear, sucked the joy out of my own life.  My children and my husband became my happiness, but if I was alone, with just myself and my thoughts, I was a fearful, anxious wreck of a woman.

So how did I recover my happiness? Here it is. But first, let me assure you that there is no need to worry. I am not going to parlay this blog into a tool to kickstart my new career as a self-help guru. I still have a lot of work to do. Also, I am a late bloomer. Most forty year old adults figured this stuff out long ago. So, please, take it for what it’s worth. Now, back to how I became happy.

I discovered that most people are inherently good.  No.  I am not naive.  Of course there are wicked people who do evil things, who choose to do evil things, but, the vast majority of people in this world are good, or try to be good, or, at the very least, fancy themselves to be good. I deeply believe that insecurity is the primary reason why people act like assholes.  Insecurity, not pure wickedness, explains why people are jealous, why people malign others, why people hurt others at school and in the workplace.  And it is so much easier to forgive or at least understand someone whose actions are driven by insecurity rather than by nefarious intent.  Once I decided that people are good, despite the fact that they act badly, the world became a happier place.

To the best of my ability, I try to live each day so that I would be proud of it if it were my last.  This is not the same as living each day as if I knew it was going to be my last.  That’s ridiculous.  In that scenario, I’d likely attempt to numb my pain and quell my fear with martinis and denial. When I reflect upon my day, I want to feel proud that I tried to do the best for my children and family.  I want to feel proud that I tried my best to be kind and patient and unselfish.  I want to feel proud that I worked to my fullest potential.  I don’t need perfection.  Perfection is a myth. Striving for it will destroy you.

I went to a shrink. That’s right, I went to a shrink, and it was the best thing I could have done for myself and my family.  Just a few years back, I became crippled by fear, anxiety and OCD (something I did not realize I had as a youth, but, in retrospect, of course I did).  While I don’t want to get into the gory details at the moment, I will say that when mommy is unhappy, when mommy spends much too much time crying and worrying, the family becomes unhappy.  When you have everything, and by everything I mean healthy children, a loving spouse and enough money to pay the bills and your still not happy, for Christ’s sake, it’s time for mommy to take care of her shit.  So I did. As a parent, it’s our duty to take care of ourselves, to take care of both our physical and mental health. 

I discovered who I am and I actually like myself.  I just took some time to figure out what I really like, who I really like to be with, and what ideas and opinions are authentically mine.

There it is…how I became happy.  Oh, in case you’re interested, what did I learn about myself?   In a nutshell, I’m a faux leather, sparkle eye shadow, stiletto wearing, zany chic who unapologetically admits to  living  for her kids and loves her husband.  I like quirky people with wild stories, dancing, club music, old episodes of Columbo, Cheetos and martinis. I love ballet…and B movies. I like earnestness and absurdity. I like to laugh. Mostly, I love to be with my children.  I still dream.  I still choreograph dances in my head when I hear great music.  I am happy. Finally, at forty years old, I am happy.