Friday, May 2, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons

"I can't imagine it," said my seven-year-old, sizing up the volcano in the distance.


"How it could it destroy so much?"

With squinted eyes, he cocked his head to capture the perfect photo of Mount Vesuvius, one that might reveal how its crater seemed to pry apart the encircling swaddle of clouds.

He was now a witness to raw beauty and the monster that resided within it.

As the hydrofoil skimmed its way across the Mediterranean,  I had imagined the scenes that filled his head:   Pompeiians writhing in carcasses of hardened ash,  terror frozen in endless arcs. 

"One day I want to see those dead people," he remarked as the boat approached Capri.

"Someday," I responded.

After my husband spontaneously booked a jaunt to Italy for our three spirited sons, I wondered how we would cram thousands of years of history into a four-day slot.

"But you're a veteran," my husband said, reminding me of my several trips to Rome while a student in Italy. "The itinerary is all up to you."

A veteran, yes--but of the swooning Italy of my twenties in which I once nuzzled myself: the chapter when I lingered on the Spanish Steps to gaze at blood-orange sunsets, when my Italian flowed like afternoon Prosecco, when I dreamed about chiseled Roman jawlines.

It was also when I first came to terms with my own ruins. My own ashes.

The itinerary must be perfectly balanced so the boys don't implode, I thought, envisioning Swiss Guards glaring at a chorus of echoing fart noises.

So it was set: two sightseeing days in Rome, two for relaxation on Capri.

Sadly, there would be no time to see Pompeii.


But maybe I wasn't ready to revisit it just yet.

I mostly remember Pompeii's knots : the knots of panic cemented on ancient faces and the present knots of a looming eruption.

I was a voyeur who stared guiltily at forever screams and airless hysteria.

Was it the public display of pain that jabbed a nerve?  


At twenty, the truth was that I was ashamed of my own ruins.  My own soundless scream.


I learned how to sweep at such an early age, where the ineffable balled itself into dusty ash piles under the thick rugs of a silent culture. 

There are no concealing rugs in Pompeii, only the showcases of visible agony that compelled me to feel more humanly connected and emotionally distant all at once.  Buried inside of me were the ruins of a little girl who had seen and heard too much, who had come to doubt her own-self worth, her own right be loved, her own right to speak.

At twenty, I could no longer deny their presence.

In order to imagine the life I wanted, I had to confront every ugly facet and decomposing memory, every battered moment and septic message.  

Under that rug was the other side of silence.
The side where I bravely reached for motherhood. 
The side where I will one day reveal my ruins to my children.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I can teach my sons resides in the echoes of those ruins rather than in the silence of shame.  

Inherent in motherhood are those sleepless nights that clog us with the pain from our children's missteps, their own inevitable failings.

Leila platform sandals by Charlotte Olympia
Stone by stone, my deepest hope is they will come to understand that within some of our darkest hours exists the core of our greatest light, our greatest beauty, our greatest reinvention.

After the hydrofoil reached Capri's Marina Grande, my son could not help but point at the bloated lemons dangling from the trees above him.

"Why do those lemons grow so big?"

"The ashes," I replied.  
"It is because of the ashes."