Moving the World
We were visited recently by a couple of friends from Tarboro, North Carolina, our previous home in the U.S, and while their short visit was filled mostly with wine, food, and sightseeing, it did manage to raise in me a tiny token of… what? I’m not sure what to call it. Not nostalgia and certainly not regret. Perhaps it was simply the wispy, rising rumination of the Life We Had Known Before. The smoke of a still warm but smothered campfire.
That is not to say the four years we lived in Tarboro were a cozy time for us and our family. Due to a dearth of available, nice housing, we moved frequently (four times, ranging from the Trash House to Best.Home.Ever). We’d come to start a business, a bakery, which in spite of our efforts and high hopes stole our attention, our time and much of our conversation, tying up so many long hours with what for our children—and us, too—was a mind-numbing and often impenetrable distraction. Uprooted for the first time in their lives, they were forced to learn new rituals and find other ways of dealing with the harsh realities of their world. To us, the bakery was an exciting opportunity. To them it was an uninvited, unwelcomed change.
Adding to the challenge was the fact that none of us were native to the town. Tarboro did not belong to us, nor us to it. The streets and neighborhoods and common areas were not filled with the images and memories and ghosts of a communal time and experience. We were welcomed there by many due to first impressions and the wholesomeness of Franca’s breads and pastries, not because we all carried a shard of shared history in our pockets from the day we’d each been born. Attachment to a place, or lack thereof, is not overcome easily, and never by bread alone.
“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing.”
None of this is a slight against the town or the townspeople. Our most loving and closest friendships were founded in Tarboro. And also, belonging is a two-way street. With our time and attention no longer just ours but spread over a multitude of concentrations, many of which imposed themselves one on top of the other, well, let’s just say, mistakes were made and minds were misled at both ends of the survey stick.
And yet, here we are. An ocean away from that world, from those friendships, taking up residence in another, more ancient, old town. Idyllic, cantankerous and standoffish in its own way. A setting, however, for which we could once again put faith in our potential for trying and failing and moving forward, staying open to the revelations that life can reveal about oneself, if willing to listen. This is the thought foremost on my mind as we left our friends as they headed on foot to the train station, their excursion to Sicily nearing its end, and us returning by car to Troina. “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it,” the great Greek thinker Archimedes once wrote, “and I shall move the world.”
I tried imagining myself in their shoes, stepping through the door to our old Tarboro home, enjoying the wide front porch where we used to drink coffee and cocktails; moving about the kitchen, cooking and gossiping with friends and one another; embracing the more quiet spaces of the house where we loved and made love and struggled at times to find the courage and purpose and effort required to make every day the best one possible. The lever was there—maybe it had always been there, it is finding the fulcrum that’s the hard part.
I thought of our friends and our family, of our children, and wondered when might we see them again. With no set plans on returning to America any time soon, the thought of the distance between us rouses the darkest recesses of my heart and wakes me in the middle of night, sends me reaching for my phone with hopes that I might locate them out there in the digital universe and see what they are doing. So that I might glean something in what they share that will tell me how they are doing.
All part of letting go of them, I know. But this releasing them out into the world by physically removing ourselves from the nest feels cruel and wild, a practice stripped from the folios of the animal kingdom. But also it seems like a good antidote to a manmade world gone crazy with greed, bestowing artificial value on everything under the sun based solely on the size of its return. And children, as one Sicilian mother put it to us not long after we’d arrived here, may be brought into this world by us, but they are not ours.
So, of course the kids are all right. They are better than all right. The future is their lever and the fulcrum lies there before their eyes, in the skies and the soil and oceans. We have left them no choice but to grasp the bar, leverage the point, and inch the world in another direction.
Before parting, we asked our friends when they might return to Sicily. They see themselves possibly living here, too, and while their answer was vague, occupied with hesitancy—dependent on family, work, the economy—I understood their situation completely. Leaving a place is not easy when it becomes more than the borders it occupies. When it becomes the doorways and the kitchens and the porches and sunrooms, when it’s walking along the streets and standing in offices and waiting rooms and cashier lines; anywhere the bitter and bracing human interactions of life occur. Where you find meaning, and purpose and tears and laughter and love, and where, eventually, if you’re there long enough, you also discover loss.
We both loved Tarboro, we did. Or rather, we loved the lives we had made for ourselves in that town. As often is the case, it’s not the where so much that matters, but the who. We arrived there total strangers, preparing to go all in, dedicating our passions, our time and resources, and most of all our willingness to love and be loved by the people of that community. At times it felt like the center of the universe and for the four years we lived there it was our universe. But it’s not the place we miss. In the end, love alone is not enough to sustain livelihood. But it’s all that is needed to sustain friendship.
Often, when I lie awake at night scrolling through social media looking for signs from the kids, I come across a familiar hashtag, lovingly left there by others. #WhyTarboro it reads. And though we are guilty too of sharing it, I know it is only partly correct. Perhaps #WhoinTarboro would be a better fit, and for those we met there we are happy to spread our arms open wide and welcome them in no matter where we call home.
Hope to see you all one day in Sicily!
—Steve and Franca