Being back in your home country gives you many opportunities for reflection. Memories, some long forgotten, suddenly flood your consciousness and you feel that joy and pain just as vividly as when it happened. You see friends, long unseen and separated by great distance, and your souls join back together as if no time has passed. You see children, the symbol of the future, and you feel hope and joy that no matter what happens in your own existence, these beacons of promise will usher in the next generation of thinkers, doers, and leaders. And your family stirs the sharpest recollections, those people who have known you the longest and the most intimately.
My three weeks back in the US have offered me many chances to thumb through the story that is my life. Living in Italy doesn’t give me much opportunity to think about my past. It’s present tense through and through and the memories I have there are new ones. Everywhere I turn here I’m greeted by a ghost.
My entire life has unfolded within about 45 miles of where I sleep now. Maybe that’s why these ghosts are so powerful – they don’t have to travel far to reach me. I imagine them always there, dormant, waiting for me to arrive and stir them to action. Then they occupy my mind and inhabit my soul. I see glimpses of my former self holding my mother’s hand as I go to my first day of school, giggling with my girlfriends about boys we wanted to be our boyfriends, sending my college application off, coming of age in my purple bedroom. I feel those emotions so intensely it makes me want to cry. I look at the choices I made and the things I did and cringe or nod in approval. I see the path I took and the paths I could have taken and know that those options would not have delivered me where I am now. I have regrets but I am not regretful.
None of these ghosts are as powerful as the old ones. The ones that have haunted me for the longest. The ones that reach deep down and follow my trail beyond Atlanta to the place of my birth. These are the ones that cause me to gasp as they touch raw nerves and conjure up the events that shaped my being. They are the ones that cause me the deepest reflection and often the most pain. They help me to reconcile that I have always been who I am now, I just had to travel my own route to get me there.
I have chosen a life in which I live minimally. I own only a few pieces of furniture. I have reduced my keepsakes and valuables to those highly cherished things that bring me joy. My clothes are few and accessories even fewer. I have come to look at things in a different way. While I still appreciate beauty, I don’t see something in a store and want to buy it – I look at it, admire it, and leave it there for someone else to take home. I think shedding these material things has made me feel the intangible more mightily. I don’t think it takes ridding yourself of your worldly belongings to heighten your emotions, but for me it has served to strip away some of the clutter that took up too much room in my brain and my life. And that has invited these ghosts to touch my soul on a level that a few years ago I might not have allowed.
The longer I am here, the weaker these ghosts become. They are accustomed to me and I to them. They are no longer so eager to shock me – that is a novelty and can only be accomplished with newness. They recede back into the shadows and the memories they stir in me are not as strong. I may take a few of them back to Italy with me, just to keep them in my consciousness. Then again, maybe they belong here where they were formed. Waiting on me to return and keeping my history intact for my next visit.