Most of you reading this are the descendants of immigrants, whether you know who your ancestors are or not. Some of you made the journey yourself from another country and know firsthand the emotions of crossing over into an unknown land…..that feeling of “walking to the edge of all the light you have.”
There is a scene from the film, “Brooklyn” that I like very much. A young woman named Eilis is an emigrant arrival from Ireland. Her suitcase in hand, she is allowed entry into the United States and takes her leave through a door. The shot: Her figure is sort of a blur as she opens the door to the outside, which is light-filled and she melds with the light. I have wondered why it brings such big tears to my eyes. It came to me as I watched it again, that the feeling of loss and gain, restriction and freedom, despair and hope – experienced at the same time – is a powerful moment…..and it isn’t confined to just the literal immigration threshold.
It's emotional because my ancestral emigration story is also my story.
Those of you who have read my book, The Stonecutter’s Aria, know that my grandmother opened doors of beauty and love for me at a time when I was struggling with my imprisonment inside a cult-like religion. She always “saw me,” and encouraged me to go after my dreams.
The girl in the movie has a sister, Rose and she is the person who is Eilis’ champion, who knows she must find her life elsewhere. Rose knows Eilis is “more” than her present circumstances say she is and does everything she can to help prepare her for a life-changing journey.
We all need a champion in our lives when the moments come that call us to change something, leave someone or leave something – a job, a country, a religion, a situation.
Thus begins an emigration of the soul. Leaving my religion meant leaving my immediate family, who was no longer permitted to speak or associate with me. Like all immigrants, there is a high emotional price to be paid for leaving your country of origin.
When I watch Eilis on the ship waving good-bye to her mother – her mother’s face contorted in pain as she turns away from Eilis- it is a final good-bye – it feels final. The mother feels abandoned by her daughter, which is how my mother saw my departure – it wasn’t just my decision to leave a religion, it was a decision that meant I must also leave her (even though that was not my desire). In fact, we both felt abandoned, betrayed.
But it’s the leave-taking that set me on a path of freedom and joy. My grandmother was my immigrant ancestor and I am her grateful descendant. She taught me how to leave. Because she had done it too.
She taught me how to embrace a new life. She opened the doors of beauty to Italy for me and we went there together. For her, it was a homecoming. For me, it was as well. Because it is in Italy that I have discovered who I am, how I want to live, how I want to be, what I believe in.
We all have an immigration story. I invite you to think about what yours might be. As you reflect on the bravery of your own ancestral immigrant’s journey, take another look: you are there too!
“There are things known and things unknown and in between are the doors.”- Jim Morrison
Sunday, September 10th
“The First Italians: The Etruscans in Tuscany” - presented by Carol Faenzi
Nora Library, 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Refreshments Served - Sponsored by The Italian Heritage Society of Indiana - Free, Open to the Public
Friday, September 29th
Olive Oil Tasting – presented by Carol Faenzi
The Nestle Inn – 637 East Street – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Learn how to taste, buy and reap the health benefits of authentic olive oil. Register here. - Space is limited.