As we stood in front of a trattoria Friday night waiting for friends to gather, I panicked. A friend from our children’s school offered to organize a cocktail party or a meeting for aperitivo. When we arrived, we had never met the two mothers that were already there, and with our limited Italian there was not much to say.
As the kids bounded off to play, we struggled to fill the silence and waited. Fears filled my head about who was in fact hosting:
- Should I invite these people into the bar to sit down or wait?
- Do we pay first, as we order, or ask for separate checks?
- Are the appetizers that are set out on the bar free?
And finally, as the silence overtook me, I realized that for almost two years I have felt this kind of discomfort at least part of every day. These are the cultural norms that desert me when I travel. The easy stuff! The stuff I didn’t have to think about in my life before this journey but somedays are all I think about on the road.
As the minutes passed, classmates arrived with parents and grandparents. Teachers pulled up on their beach cruiser bicycles and steadied themselves as the kids ran to hug them. Slowly and gracefully the silence was replaced with a melody that I no longer had to strain to hear. It was the sound of glasses clinking as two cultures worked to communicate.
The consistent din of our children playing familiar schoolyard games with their friends filled the square. There was no fanfare or hostess. There were no gifts or toasts. Everyone paid their own tab and there was no burden to entertain. Magically during this very busy holiday weekend, on Good Friday, all of these people came to simply be with us. Some faces we had never seen before and some we met the first day the kids started school but all will be remembered. It was the sound of every day living and we were a part of it.
I hope to remember to pay attention to both the silence and the melody of everyday life wherever we land because each note, or absence thereof, adds vitality and timeless resonance to the moment. Perhaps there is no more important place to practice this than the place we call home.