Epiphany #1: Christmas evening we're watching the new release of Pinnochio at the cinema on the edge of Piazza Cavour near our hotel. It's all in Italian, but knowing the story, we follow along, recognizing a few words and phrases here and there. Roberto Benigni plays Geppetto and I'm transported back to the version of the story I learned as a child. I don't even remember that it is an Italian story until it unfolds on the screen.
Surrounded by caring and kind Italian families both in the cinema and for the week we've been touring around, I get a sense of the warmth I experienced from my grandfather and on occasion my father. There's a tenderness about the interactions. Protective and caring. And then it dawns on me...
I'm in Rome.
I'm in Rome, Italy.
This is where my family is from. This is where their family is from. Generations of Italian families growing up with this warm, kind attention and affection. With this caring.
I can remember it from my grandparents. I can remember it whenever I see loving and caring families, but this is different. Because everyone looks a lot like me. A lot like I did as a child. A lot like I'm beginning to look as a mature adult.
This. This culture of warmth is what I remember in my earliest childhood memories. The togetherness. The food as love. The guidance. The looking up to my parents with awe and reverence.
They wanted this for us. They wanted to give us this container of compassionate caring. This is what they were trying to build in the American culture of their time and place. In northern California, specifically in the Sonoma and Napa valley region.
I well up with tears during the movie and by the time we exit, I'm holding back sobs. Important sobs. I'm feeling embarrassed, as I usually do when I can't control or name what's happening. I finally stammer to Jim, "I don't know what's happening, but I need to just sit and experience it until it passes."
We settle on a park bench outside the theater. Vision after vision of my family life rise in my awareness.
This is what they were trying to give us.
And it went wrong. It went so, so wrong. At least for me. I, being the youngest of six children and being raised in the 60's.
I remember the fear. I remember the angry outbursts and violence. I remember the drunkenness. I remember the chaos and not feeling safe in my own home. I remember coming home at night to an empty house so frightened I would pull out the largest knife in the drawer and walk around to each room and eventually turning on all the lights in the house.
How did it go so wrong?
I reached out early in life to find the answers to pain I experienced. Something was wrong and I learned to believe it was me. Decades of searching has helped me understand the dysfunctional patterns that arose in our family from alcohol, drugs and violence.
Sobs turned into a blank stare at the traffic in the distance. Had these addictions and compulsions not entered the picture, we most likely would be living this--the supportive, caring and tender family life I've witnessed all around me in Italy.
I look around and blurt to Jim in between sobs, "THIS is what my parents and grandparents were after when they tried to instill their values to us kids."
My parents tried so hard to be good parents. They were doing the best they could with their circumstances. I had done so much healing work around this on my own and with them through the years. The tenderness and caring returned in my adult years with them, but the residual scars of abuse are much slower to heal, as they embed themselves in the body on a cellular level. The residuals may never leave this mind/body/consciousness. It's the big driver for my mindfulness practice--how to work with the inevitable difficulties that arise in my life.
A few weeks later we are met at the train station in Cuneo by my third cousin, Daniela Saccato, and her family. We connected a few years earlier on Facebook and stayed in contact. We would be staying with her family for part of the week and another cousin, Elio Saccato, in Bra for the rest of the week. Tears poured upon our meeting in person and the family folded us under their wings without missing a beat.
We were whisked into a cafe for a quick coffee and then off to tour downtown Cuneo, a well kept affluent town of about 56,000. It was filled with the usual mix of old, well built buildings among newer displays of high end shopping and dining options. While Christmas and New Year had passed, the Epiphany holiday was just around the corner, so the festive atmosphere felt fresh and strong.
(To be continued.)
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