journal

Italy

The things that one grows tired of—O, be sure
They are only foolish artificial things!
Can a bird ever tire of having wings?
And I, so long as life and sense endure,
(Or brief be they!) shall nevermore inure
My heart to the recurrence of the springs,
Of gray dawns, the gracious evenings,
The infinite wheeling stars. A wonder pure
Must ever well within me to behold
Venus decline; or great Orion, whose belt
Is studded with three nails of burning gold,
Ascend the winter heaven. Who never felt
This wondering joy may yet be good or great:
But envy him not: he is not fortunate.

Wonder and Joy, Robinson Jeffers

During the final days of my travels in Italy, I felt a recurring sadness, which I could not place. It would surface in quieter moments, when I was alone; I would perceive it, and attend to it, but it would not speak its discontents to me. It was present – it wanted me to know that it was present – but otherwise, it was mute and indecipherable.

Confused, I tried to give it space, on walks, or at night, meditating over a glass of wine. It was a shy sadness, one that seemed to communicate indirectly, gesturing at memories, using images of the past as metaphor.

Its vocabulary was the arc of my life. It spoke to me of my childhood. Together we remembered Christmases at my grandmother's house, the doors with inset glass, behind which lay presents waiting for midnight. Summers at Montesanto: the morning light caught in Naples' rough textures, and echoing church bells interrupted by droning scooters. Walking by the sea at night in Procida – the summer of 1998 – the dark waters brimming with life.

Eventually, we made it through the painful years of adolescence and early adulthood, when Naples became a place of mystery and adventure, of undergrounds and tunnels and secret ruins. The chorus of lunches and dinners with family, which restored the spirit as much as the body. Travels with girlfriends, with feelings amplified by the sensuality of the Neapolitan landscape.

Then, the recent years, suddenly quieter and more serious, more brooding, less carefree. Remarking the visible passage of time on my own face and that of others, while Naples, old but unchanged, remained like a goddess that outlives her mortal children. Clear-eyed, watching civilization stumble towards downfall and extinction.

I wondered if this was the sadness: returning preoccupied to the place of earliest innocence. But I was rarely a cheerful child, certainly not as an adolescent. As a young adult, the inverse: I have found moments of joy and happiness have tended, at least so far, to increase with the years.

The last played note of an unheard piece presages those following, but it does not speak for the entirety left unplayed. One story of my life is an awakening to the gloom of the world. But another is an ascension to greater states of gratitude. Yet another is the constant grapple with impermanence, and the unpausing, unwavering march of time.

The travels themselves, up to the origin of the sadness, had been mostly stressful. I was tired, burnt-out. Europe was in the midst of a heatwave, and rather than rest and think, I moved around a lot. But I began to recall that there had also been many glimmering moments. Trees swaying in the wind, which wafted the scent of jasmines. Insects – vanishing at unprecedented rates around the world – here flourishing, busy with the work of life. Stars treading the Milky Way, the sound of waves withdrawing from the shore. The voices of family and friends – many which I've known for as long as I've been alive – recounting the recent past.

Beneath the stress and exhaustion, there had been many unappreciated moments of delight. Reflecting on that delight brought me joy, but that joy in turn brought me sorrow: a departure was coming that entailed separation from all these things. A separation that echoed the first one, in 1994.

A filling moon foretells imminent wane. For every return home there's a farewell and a return to another home, a reminder that my heart is forever split across the world. Every choice to be in one place comes at the exclusion of another. All that can be lived is one portion at a time, so every return becomes a joy reborn, a death anticipated.