BACK HOME IN ROME
Yesterday I drove my mother to the airport, and, yet again, cried when I hugged her goodbye. I've lived outside of my country for over 15 years and have countlessly had to bid farewell to my parents. But I still choke up at departures. Perhaps it's because I've now lived overseas for more than 15 years that I weep even more since it's now clear to all of us that my once experiment of trying life in a foreign country is now my reality.
Over a month ago, we moved back to Rome, after eight years of living outside of Italy. We spent four years in Brussels, Belgium, and four years in Tel Aviv, Israel. When I left Brussels, I was crestfallen to uproot our little family which had grown to two children and one dog, and to pack up the cozy townhouse which had become a happy haven for play dates by day and dinner dates by night. A week before we were to move from Brussels to Tel Aviv, our daughter, about to celebrate her first birthday, was hospitalized for a urinary tract infection. Our evenings were spent at farewell receptions held in our honor, and our days and nights were spent at our daughter's side during sleepless hours in the hospital.
During that time, I saw how, when living overseas, your friends become your family. Our daughter tried to blow out her first birthday candle in the hospital with friends and colleagues showering her with cakes and presents, and surrounding us with endless moral support.
Eventually, once she was released from the hospital, a motorcade of friends drove us to the airport -- a dog in one car, two kids in another, suitcases in another. Once I landed in Tel Aviv at four o'clock in the morning, I vomited. I wasn't ill but I was heartsick to leave behind the friends who had propped me up in my final, emotional week, an act that was a simple reflection of their love and affection demonstrated throughout four years of living in Belgium together. I couldn't imagine starting all over again in Israel. It literally made me feel sick to think about it. My phone went from ringing off the hook in Brussels to a voice mail message which seemed to say, "You have no new friends in your mailbox."
Fast forward four years later and I find myself newly returned to Rome after four unexpectedly glorious years in Tel Aviv. In Israel, which I was, initially, terrified to move to, I fell in love not only with the friends we made, both of local and international descent, but also with the country itself. I have now turned into that lady on the Carnival Cruise television ads who sobs every time she sees an ocean liner. That's me in front of Facebook posts of my beach, of our neighborhood hang-outs, of restaurants where we drank too much delicious Israeli wine, of our spacious house just blocks from the beach: but my cruise lasted four years. And it wasn't always smooth sailing and we weren't always in first class -- there were major ups and downs, and even moments when I was scared for the safety of my family. But the country and my experience in it stretched me to new limits, and made me fall in love with unexpected challenges, thorny situations, and people who don't know how to say no while insisting on making things happen.
Now I'm back in Rome. Much has changed in the eight years I've been away -- inside this country and around it. This country is currently depressed from the economic crisis, apparent in price tags and shopkeepers' expressions. It hasn't helped that it has rained every single day since we returned (a heartbreaking contrast to the magnificent sun that shines reliably every day in Tel Aviv upon flawlessly blue skies).
But, most of all, I've changed. I feel fiestier or, perhaps, just less patient as I've come from a country where a squeaky wheel can make things happen rather than cause an accident (as is the case here). We've also changed as a couple, enriched by the numerous sorts of people whom we met in our travels throughout the Middle East. We each grew into ourselves as individuals, as professionals and as parents. The energy of the country stimulated both of us to rise to challenges and tackle obstacles. We both left behind concrete and tangible results of our efforts to help others. At times, the energy we invested in our efforts to get to know Israel and its people wore us out. But, most of all, it gave us thicker skin, stretched our thinking, and helped us to fall more in love with each other and with the family we are building together as we fell in love with the country that temporarily became our home.
Now, we're back home in Rome, which was home to me for almost ten years and has been home to my husband for double that. I'll always have one foot in Italy, one in America, and one in another country. And, inevitably, I'll cry when I have to bid farewell to either of my parents at an airport because I realize more and more that I have changed over time and that home for me is now more overseas than anywhere else. And that's a confusing feeling as it feels a bit like an act of betrayal even though it was never meant to be. It's good to be home, in my second home of Rome, but my heart aches profoundly for the other countries where I have lived and loved. And it probably always will.