Thursday, July 2, 2015

Finding Home: Other Voices

Today I'm pleased to welcome Judith Works with her story of returning "home."

I had reached the United Nations mandatory retirement age. As our last days in Rome sped by I took time to toss some coins into the gushing waters of the Trevi Fountain to ensure a return, even though it would be as a tourist. We had parties with friends. A colleague gave me a small gold pendant depicting Medusa, an ancient Roman symbol for protection. Members of my staff chipped in and presented me with a painting of the Fountain. The movers, with their heavy rolls of paper, finished packing our goods. The last items that went into the crate were a reliquary and old model sailboat with battered sails, chipped paint on the hull and little flags flying on its mast. The boat was my husband Glenn’s, a reminder of his sailing adventures. The antique reliquary, also showing its age with the gilding flaking off, was mine. It was a bust of an obscure saint, Anastasia, who is honored in an old church at the base of the Palatine Hill. The reliquary has a little window in her chest with a compartment behind for a bone or hank of hair. I have often wondered what it might have contained before it ended up in an antique shop waiting for me.

Easygoing Glenn was looking forward to settling in the house we had purchased six months earlier, gardening, taking some cooking lessons, and not having to deal with the difficulties of Roman life. I moped over losing my job, my Italy and my friends – my dolce vita. What would I do for the rest of my life? “Rest” wasn’t a good option.  Relieving Glenn of household chores would take up time – but then what? Should I take up the cooking again when Glenn didn’t want to relinquish his domain? Try to find a job? Annoy our daughter with unwanted advice? I felt as though my brain was already atrophying.

We flew “home,” arriving in early February, the dark and depressed season of Seattle’s bi-polar weather. But my journey was much longer than the flight as culture shock soon set in. I persisted in looking at the clock first thing every morning. If it said six, I knew it was three in the afternoon in Rome. By this time long lunches were concluding with digestivi. I spent days gazing blankly at Puget Sound, still caught between past and future. And I traveled to Vancouver to see my mother whose health suddenly declined. Two weeks after her 95th birthday, and only five months after we returned, she died. It was as if she had been waiting for us to come back before she gave up. Efforts to reconcile with my new life became even more difficult.

But through the veil of grief and disorientation I finally began to see a path leading me to a new definition of home. First, I recognized that the Pacific Northwest, where I had been born and raised, was indeed my home for the rest of my life, and that I must learn to enjoy its many attractions. Next, I found activities to occupy my brain. I began to volunteer for several local groups associated with the arts. And I decided to write. What better way to reflect on all my adventures, to gain meaning from them, and to attempt to convey that meaning to others?

So, finally, I don’t have “Home, Sweet Rome” as a motto any more. I can truthfully say I love the Northwest with its mountains, waters, and lush gardens. And I love living close to my family, and having time to read, to write, and to share a coffee with all the new friends I now have. But I do have to admit that Rome will always have a place in my mind and my heart, the two locations where the real meaning of “home” reside. 
Judith Works, a graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School, is retired from the United Nations, Rome, Italy. She is the author of a memoir about Rome, Coins in the Fountain, available as an e-book, and City of Illusions, published by Booktrope. She is currently on the steering committee for the literary conference, Write on the Sound, and is also on the board for Edmonds Center for the Arts and EPIC Group Writers. She is a member of several other writer’s groups.

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