Pickle or Paradise?
Photo by Frank Cone

Pickle or Paradise?

The year closes with our first Christmas holiday in Sicily, away from family, asking ourselves more than ever the question: Is this the land of our dreams or put us in the tightest spot.

Steven Lee Gilbert

Well, here we are, for better, for worse. In the land of our dreams or the tightest spot. Which one depends on who, what, where, and when—perhaps even why, but we’re a little beyond that now.

The difficulty in being concrete in any one moment is that unsettled intrepid hearts (or, for that matter, idiotic obstinate ones) encompass such a range of emotion it’s hard to understand exactly how to feel about being so far from home without also considering the question of what exactly is home. Being here and missing there are not inseparable, but are each engaged to the other by a deep-rooted sense of belonging. To people. To a place. To purpose and meaning. We’re talking a fucking grey area in between.

It is not the first time we have been here—in this cloudy sea of opposing sensations—nor will it be our last. But this thing we’ve done, move to Sicily, seems to have not just delivered us to an island a few thousand miles away in another country but to another universe altogether. As if we had upended our lives into a space capsule and then jettisoned it out into the great unknown beyond.

I know that may come off as hyperbolic, but so what. Using hyperbole may be the only way to talk of the situation. Like swearing, exaggeration has the capacity to either expand understanding or shun it completely, as Albert Camus wrote of in The Stranger, “You always get exaggerated notions about things you don't know anything about.”

It certainly seems to myself at times like I don’t know what I’m talking about. Happy or Sad? Troubled or Unconcerned? Eager or Impartial?

In a Pickle or Paradise?

In stories we tell ourselves and others about life we rely heavily on paradox. This or that. Give or take. Life or death. Cruel to be kind, etcetera, etcetera. And so why should this be any different? If I know one thing, it’s that I know nothing. Shove everything I’m feeling under one or two socially acceptable metaphors and maybe one of them will help me over the hump, immovable mountains be damned.

For certain the holidays aren’t helping. Every holiday song, lighted Christmas tree, or festive table reminds me of just what we’re missing back home. The kids. The togetherness. The joyful ambiance. I can’t think of A Charlie Brown Christmas without crying myself a river.

All but one of those things can be duplicated here, so it’s not the beginning of the end, but what then? My ignorance is my strength? Am I living in the present for the future? Nah, those are all way too deep and dramatic.

Enchanting, perhaps, if I had to choose a word. But then that only describes it at certain times. So does Foolish. No, something more in between. Outlandish, maybe? Or if we could agree to settle on two words, Unforgettable and Unfinished.

It is hard to imagine that twelve months ago we were standing together in our bakery, in a place we loved being together, feeling something new and terrible and very important taking shape inside of us and of which only we were aware. It led to a difficult decision and the question posed in this title.

Pickle or Paradise?

Yes. No. Who knows. But, to quote a certain famous galactic hitchhiker from outer space, I’d rather be happy, than right.


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