: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for; also : an instance of this
One of the most blessed phenomena in this great life. Serendipity.
The first thing that comes to mind when I hear this word is this fantastic movie I saw back in 2001, shortly after I had met my future boyfriend/husband/ex-husband on my first day here in Rome (June 18, 2001, to be exact). That movie is all Jon Cusack, ladies. Hubba hubba. Gorgeous movie. Actually, nothing special. Just your run of the mill rom-com of sorts, Prince Charming, destiny, all the rest. But I was so in luuuurvvve at the time, that everything was magical, and I felt like that movie was the sign specifically to me from the Universe that everything was going to work out perfectly.
I think back on that fall, after I had come back from Italy in July 2001 completely head over heels in love, starstruck, and any other verb you can conjure up for those feelings that defy vocabulary. I was there. I pined, I panicked, I dreamed, I worried, I planned, I hoped. I had a college degree but Rome had stolen my heart. I moved back in with my parents at age 23. I was BAGGING GROCERIES at a supermarket on the weekends just to make extra money, while during the week working a part-time marketing job.
But most of all, people: I trusted. As hard as it was, I trusted. I had faith that things were just going to work out. They had to. I was convinced. I think this is where the term “blind faith” comes from. It’s blind, because you have no way of shining a light down the road to see where you’ll end up.
Now. Had someone dropped down from futureland and told me that I was pining after and worrying about never being able to “have” or to be with the man who would eventually become my life partner of ten years, my future husband of four years, and the father of our three children? Well, holy crap. That takes quite a bit of the magic out of things, doesn’t it? I mean, at that point, it becomes the sure thing.
Isn’t it funny how the longing for something is almost more delectable that the actually-having-it part? Does anyone really want the sure thing? Where’s the sense of accomplishment in that?
I just learned the word for longing in Italian in a book I was reading last weekend. Anelito. It instantly became my favorite new word. It has two definitions, actually: 1) labored breathing 2) ardent desire
You don’t need me to tell you that those two definitions often times go hand in hand!
Ardent. I mean, come on. ARDENT, people. Does anyone EVER get the opportunity to use that word, for any reason, ever? Unless they’re like writing an 18th century Victorian romance novel? (A bodice-ripper!)
Oh, sigh. So here’s the thing. The longing, the hoping, the pining, the waiting, the chase, the hunt, the catch. Isn’t that where all the magic lies? Not even just in relationships, but truly in life in general, in anything that you have a burning passion for, a breathless dream about. Once it becomes the done deal, the sure thing, the here and now–some sort of pixie dust goes away and we’re quickly onto the next conquest.
Serendipity. Chance meetings or encounters that you do absolutely nothing to encourage. Things that just magically happen, and bring special results, inexplicable opportunities, unsolicited wisdom, heartfelt sentiments, exciting adventures. The polar opposite of the determined quest to “get” something. Life’s little magical gifts.
My time in Italy has been full of them. Continues to be full of them. Continues to require blind faith.
Going into the bar of a restaurant I hadn’t been to in months, to say goodbye to a lovely bartender who’s leaving for a new adventure in a sister restaurant in Brooklyn, I ended up having a most serendipitous encounter by sitting down right next to a woman who has already taught me a few important life lessons in just the last 48 hours, through personal conversation and her strong online voice. Brenda della Casa, what a lovely chance meeting! Like a little angel dropped down and told me exactly what I already knew, but needed to hear from outside of myself in order for it to finally get through to me.
Sometimes what we think we want, in the end is actually just a catalyst to get us where we need to go. But it’s in the wanting and longing, that anelito, that ardent desire, that we end up pushing forward to the next inevitable step, wherever it may lead.
Rome continues to fill me with love and joy and chance meetings. “Zia” (aunty) Lina, the pasta lady next to my downstairs coffee bar (owned by her brother) is in her probably late 70s. She always wears a white coat for work in her shop, but the few times I’ve seen her without it, she is dressed in all black, traditional widow’s garb. This spectacular lady often gives me child-rearing advice, and inevitably follows it up by proudly stating: “I’ve raised 24 nieces and nephews, just like they were my own, so I know what I’m talking about.” Just the other day, with misty eyes and a cracking voice, she told me that she loves me as if I were her own niece, and that all I have to do is ask, and anything I need, she’ll be there for me, adding: “And today I’m going to make special ravioli for you and your children, extra special just for you.”
On Twitter, of all places, I unexpectedly became friends recently with a delightful and wise man who’s 11 years younger than me and lives far, far away, but is originally from Rome. He and I had a breathlessly fateful encounter on one of the hilltop towns just outside of Rome when he was visiting recently for just 5 days, trading our thoughts and philosophies on life and love. He about his girlfriend back in his adopted country, me about my struggle to find myself post-divorce, all over a marathon of sarcastic one-liners, a gelato with his requested “‘na cifra” (a ton) of whipped cream, and a balmy stroll in the late summer air. Magical. Truly. A source of joy for me that is inexplicable, this jewel of a man full of wisdom and light who I treasure as a friend from afar, this completely unsolicited and effortless gift of friendship.
After reflecting on my past weekend filled with emotional highs and lows, I resolved to make this a week for focusing on the blessings I have in my life, and not trying to constantly strive and push to have things I think I want, that perhaps I can’t, or shouldn’t.
Why must we always walk through life trying to get more, trying to do more, trying to be more and have more, without stopping to be thankful for all of the things we are already truly blessed with? I think I gravitated to Rome for this sense of gratitude. I’m a realist rather than a romanticist when it comes to Rome, but no one can deny that life here moves at a different pace. There’s more time for reflection, and a key Roman philosophy to live by is “piano, piano” — little by little, literally “slowly, slowly,” dispensed liberally by Romans as a reassurance to any anxiety you might express. “Just take it easy,” they seem to say. Everything will eventually work itself out, you’ll see.
Here I am, 11 years later, and never would I have thought that even after having a firmly established life here in Rome, and having been called a Roman at heart by more than one native, I would still be feeling that sense of longing, that bittersweet anelito, that pining sense for something more.
And yet, through it all, I’ve just now finally come to realize that without the ache of longing, I’d never be able to fully understand how richly abundant my life truly is, just as it is, right now, pain and sorrow, love and joy, adopted family, new friends, blind faith, serendipity. Tears and all, despite it all: life is good! Celebrate your blessings. Even heartache has a lesson to teach.
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.