I have been playing a dysfunctional game of “I never” with myself the last few weeks. It goes a little something like this. I will be hurrying down the sidewalk, huddled up in my puffy, black coat to ward off the frigid winter air, mind swirling with the hundred and one tasks still to complete before our looming move date, when my eye is caught and my steps halt. The object of my distraction is a cute little coffee bar, or boutique, or family restaurant that I have noticed in the neighborhood before and about which I have always thought: “that looks like a fun place. I should check it out one of these days.”
Only now, the internal dialogue has changed. Propelled by a longing sigh, my now-heavy feet move off as my stress-fatigued heart laments: “Now I’ll never get the chance to go there.” Technically, I still have just over a week in my beloved Milano, but that week is so crammed full of errands, and movers, and goodbye meetings that there is no practical way to schedule in these little side-trip. Particularly because it’s not just a local coffee shop that I am bemoaning, it’s also all the destinations we never visited. I never spent a weekend in Sienna, or Torino, or the Cinque Terra. I never got to visit Germany, or Austria, or Istanbul, or Normandy. I never even took many of the easy day trips from Milano, like Pavia, or Bellagio, or Lago di Garda.
Then there are the experiential I nevers. I never went to a concert on the roof of the Duomo. I never booked a make-up lesson with the fashion professional who advertises in the English newsletter. I never took the kids to do a “test drive” on the children’s level of the Ferrari store. I never took an Italian cooking class. I never even learned how to make homemade focaccia! Even my lovely twice-a-month cleaning lady, maestra of all things domestic and Italian, failed to teach me this art. I shuffle through the endless, frenetic tasks that are my unwanted responsibility in the process of ending my Italian residence and my mind meditates on the “I nevers.” It is not a wonderful way to experience a goodbye.
I shared some of this pain in an e-mail to my patient, long-suffering husband yesterday. With understated wisdom he acknowledged my sorrow, and then subtly shifted my perspective with the suggestion that we “try to enjoy the time we have left.” Zing!
Once I ventured a foot outside my little pity party I felt a bit embarrassed. It wasn’t really fair for Tyler to be the one to have to remind me how much I have to be grateful for in this whole experience. After all, he has a few big “I nevers” himself, that I was able to check off my list. He never saw the original of DaVinci’s Last Supper. He never saw a performance at the historic La Scala Opera House. He never had the tremendous privilege of staying home with our children for the precious years of their early childhood, and exploring the amazing city of Milan with them into the bargain. Perhaps I am feeling more pain about the departure than Tyler not because of all the things I never got to do, but because of all the things I got to do: all the experiences of daily living that have been so precious and that I do not want to give up.
But, perhaps it is possible to think about these experiences not as things I am losing, but in things that I have had. “Better to have loved and lost….” There is a much better I never list that I could be rehearsing in my mind while I fill out endless paperwork, or stand at the post office waiting to mail yet another contract-cancelling disdetta. I never thought I would live in Italy. I never expected my children would visit seven countries before the age of seven, and talk casually about how cold it is on top of the Eiffel Tower. I never anticipated that I would be able to gain conversational competence in a foreign language (even if I wish I spoke more fluently). I never imagined that I would discover in my soul a love for travel, or in my taste buds a love for spicy salad greens. I never dreamed that three years in a country known for nominal Catholicism and opulent cathedrals could awaken in me the greatest spiritual revitalization I have experienced in my adult life. Plus… I never thought I’d live in Milan forever, so why am I complaining?
Therefore, in my last week in Milan I have a new goal. I will drink in every last luscious drop of joy that this city has to offer. I will look at the beautiful architecture of random apartment buildings as I scurry down the streets. I will relish the flavors of our favorite restaurants when the movers kick us out of our apartment for our last few nights. I will giggle with Princess Imagination as she experiments with the Italian phrases that she is only now absorbing. And, when I feel the pangs of sadness and loss washing over my heart, I will turn instead to face the future. And I will hold my breath for whatever new adventure lies just around the corner, cherishing the realization that I never knew I wanted it.