11 Sep

: 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.


15 Responses to “Serendipity”

  1. Gil September 11, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

    Beautiful summary of your life in Rome: past, present and future. It is a pleasure to read how well you have adapted to life in Rome.

  2. Melissa Muldoon September 11, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Ciao! I loved your blog on Serendipity! It is poignant and right on the mark! I have spent a lot of my days working hard for and pining after things like love, career, children etc… and then once these things are achieved and conquered I am rushing off & onto the next thing. So your message hit home. I guess that is why I love Italy so much, because it provides me with many many many serendipitous moments. Through the blog that I write in Italian and my travels and experiences in Italy, I am richer for the unexpected encounters and lovely people I meet along the way. They are the neat little surprises that fall in to my lap, never expected, anticipated or sought after and yet they are the things that make me richer and which make me feel extremely lucky & grateful. Sometimes it is nice to do your thing.. make your plans, work hard, pine after things, but then it is also just a well to sit back and let the universe reveal to you what plans (the good and the bad) it has for you, instead of foolishly thinking you can micromanage it. Here’s to more serendipitous moments.

  3. Rita V. September 12, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    I too have pined and longed w/ardent desire for so love and children etc. I am now in my mid-40’s and must now realize that though I have never been married and never had children, my life really has been filled w/so many wonderful things, love and children included! At this point in my life, I am truly grateful for the many blessings of each day. Serendipity. Such a lovely word. The chance meeting. The quiet, unexpected memory that floats up at times to make me smile. Those are the things I’m glad to have. Don’t get me wrong. There are things I still want ardently. But along w/striving for those things, I try not to let the little moments go by that may mean more to me later on than those things I’m reaching so ambitiously for!

  4. Un'americana a Roma September 12, 2012 at 3:47 am #

    Thank you Gil! One of my most “ardent” supporters. 😉

  5. Un'americana a Roma September 12, 2012 at 3:49 am #

    Thank you for sharing. Micromanaging is my past! Once I realized that the fact that I wanted to control everything was just to give me a false sense of security… letting go is the only way. Easier said than done, however! xoxo

  6. Un'americana a Roma September 12, 2012 at 3:50 am #

    It’s so cliche to say “the grass is always greener” but of course it comes from a place of truth… something in our human makeup must have us programmed (or culturally) to always want what we can’t have, or don’t have, but truly then where do all the beautiful things we are blessed with get classified? It’s true, the little moments are the ones that in the end turn out to mean the most.

  7. rosann September 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Great, thoughtful post. I so understand. 30 years of marriage and raising 9 children — divorced 5 years ago. Still trying to figure things out. This wasn’t the way we had planned it. Hubs and I are still great friends, but nevertheless, I’m alone.

    Lots of wisdom in your words today. thanks

  8. Catherine September 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    I’d never heard of anelito either. Now must work out how to use it.

    Another lively heartfelt post that had my brain ticking. I’ve spent the last year being grouchy, even resentful, especially when I see exes steam ahead. But you’re right it’s all about being in the right place, and realising – yes! – that this might be what you wished for.

    It’s so tricky, playing mindgames with yourself. I mean, serendipity won’t come to you I don’t think unless you are ready for her visit!

  9. Un'americana a Roma September 14, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    Oh believe me. I had to really get to some seriously humiliating behaviors before I finally gave up and told the ol’ universe to give me a hand up not a hand out. I mean, honestly, throwing myself at a man was getting ugly. It’s all good though. Because the minute I put my hands up in total surrender, I started to get lots of great reminders of why I don’t need to, in the words of the wise BDC “audition for a man’s attention.” It’s all a process, it’s all good, even the bleh serves to get you to the better places.

  10. Un'americana a Roma September 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    My pleasure, you’re welcome. You are SO not alone even if you feel it, I know what you mean and how lonely it can feel, and certainly not after 30 years and 9 children! But in any case, life is constantly throwing us curve balls, isn’t it? But I guess just as easily as life can come crashing down around us, it can also bring us great unexpected blessings just as quickly. You just never know, I suppose. Life wouldn’t be worth living if we had it all figured out?? Mah. No real words of wisdom. Just trying to get through it all as gracefully as possible.

  11. Janet Thomas September 14, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    Yes, appreciating what we have is so important, but so difficult. Sometimes when I am feeling disatisfied I just think that at some point in the future I will look back on the present and think how good things were then. Be here now.

  12. My Little Italian Kitchen September 21, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    I absolutely love your writing style! You are great.
    I am a northern Italian living in England. In the north we find Romans very hilarious. They are happy and funny people. I enjoyed reading your post. keep it up! More please!

  13. Catherine September 22, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    True true! I used to feel this pressure to find a new partner quick smart and it was all wrong. Plus how to fit it around jealous/demanding kids? Now I have strategies however…

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  1. A Lovely Blog Written By a Lovely Lady | Walking Barefoot - September 11, 2012

    […] Un’ Americana a Roma is hilarious, poignant and truly worth a daily click.  Her latest post, Serendipity was sent to me with a note that it was inspired by our chance […]

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