"That'ês life, that'ês life. That'ês what all the people say. I'êm riding high in April, shot down in May." When I was a kid, these Sinatra lyrics rang out of my father'ês shower. This tipped me off that there would be some tough times along the way.
And there have been.
As much as I like to think I'êve intentionally shaped my life, I see how my father, an immigrant from Italy, showed me how a rigorous work ethic, a firm belief in physical action, and the need to rise after the knock-downs, eventually gets you to where you want to be. For him, all that lay ahead in America was working hard. And, like most immigrants, he was happy to have the work.
And why, when I hear my friends criticize Seattle without ever considering getting involved politically — even at a grassroots level — or attempt a goal once or twice before giving up and moving on, I want to ask: What is it you are after here? Where is your commitment, your dedication to your city, your work, and others?
All of this makes me think how everyone I know in Seattle has either been to Italy or wants to visit. Why? Well, one reason is to be charmed by the past. So I try not to cringe when my foodie-friends go on and on about European food: the length of time people take to not only prepare it, but to eat it. I force a lot of smiles.
I don'êt say how the Europeans I know are far less enamored with the past then we Americans think. They seldom romanticize it. Since World War II, they'êve worked hard to live in the present. How else could they dig themselves out of such a war-torn past? The present is all my family wants to think or talk about. My Seattle friends, and, I suspect, most Americans, don'êt seem to understand that this is why Europeans linger over those five-course meals, savoring the ease, holding on as if to a mane. Not wanting to fall off the crest they'êve worked so hard to climb, knowing how far civilization can sink once a descent begins.
This live-in-the-present way of life became my own. Every time I experience a loss, I shift my focus to the present until I can see nothing but the future. It'ês invigorating. The past is an anchor, sure. But it holds you back.
Lately, I'êve thought a great deal about another "European-ness" my family talks a lot about: a profound sense of commitment to others (Europe is not a culture addicted to the next new thing). I'm reflecting on all this in order to understand how another trait helped form who I am. This trait: loyalty.
I am loyal. In the Old World sense.
Nevertheless, loyalty is not an easy topic to tackle. Especially when the next-new-thing notion seems like our culture in a nutshell. This notion is terrifically liberating in many instances, andit's why I left the fold of my family to move to the opposite coast in the first place: to experience the freedom of a new city like Seattle.
And though I wasn'êt fully aware of something until I sat to write this, I can see how I've been tripped up by expecting an Old World level of loyalty in an urban center like Belltown that is, just now, trying to define itself as a city, in big and painfully-idealistic ways. I tell you, it'ês cost me. I'êve been guilty of expecting way too much from friendships, even my work relationships, so deeply attached was I to the idea of making them my "family."
But living in Seattle has toughened me up. Made me stand on my own.
My only wish is that while my family was setting a responsible, loyal, straightforward example, they could have enjoyed life more. But maybe one can never achieve a carefree-ease once war has penetrated your life. But that'ês another subject.
Or is it?
I think it'ês why — it is why — I moved as far west as possible, married a man whose family goes back three generations on this coast, and why my Seattle friends have had such an influence on me: because I prefer looking at life through the eyes of those who aren'êt running from something.
So it seems I'êll always be straddling two worlds: old world loyalty vs. freedom from loyalty'ês constraints. And this dichotomy makes me feel rootless in so many ways.
When I look up from my keyboard to consider what I just wrote, here'ês what I think: Writing is where I'êm most at home. On days (like this one) when I don'êt know what I'êm doing in this cold, gray city or where I'êm supposed to head, writing helps me remember that a lush, green spring will come. It'ês simply the sound of my fingers clicking away that brings me back until I can hear the woman inside me sing, That'ês life, that'ês life. That'ês what all the people say...
Then, compassionately, this woman inside me says, Seattle is as much a home as anywhere. And it is a solid place.