Defining Love

trek7I never thought he’d ask me this soon, but yesterday, he did:

“What is Love, mom?”

My bilingual, inquisitive three-year-old, who already knows the meaning of four-syllable words such as, Esophagus, Stabilizer, and Paragliding, quizzed me on the simplest yet deepest of English words.

“What is Love, mom?” o21

“Love is, like, when you care about someone or something a lot,” I began. “Love is how I feel about you.”

But then I paused. Maybe the explanation wasn’t as easy as I thought.

“When you love someone, you trust them. You believe them. They make you happy. They make you smile.”

No sooner had I answered, that I realized this was my “general”, easy idea of love.

And all throughout my life, love hasn’t been general, nor easy.

Each time I have loved—if I have loved deeply—it was always different. The love I felt for one person was never the same for another.

And definitely, the way I loved my son was something else entirely.

When my daughter came along, even though I had previously thought my heart was so full of love for my first child, it somehow found space to tank up even more for the new one. Overflowing, overwhelming, love.

I thought also, of the days, when the routine of living becomes frustrating, and I tell my son off with angry words. I become exasperated, and upset…but I don’t love him any less.

Every new day, I love him all over again. No matter what passed yesterday, no matter how naughty or disobedient or frustrated he made me.  I love him, because a parent’s love is unconditional.

o5And then I thought about the love that has kept me through the last four years of marriage. In the beginning, yes, this was the love of romantics, of extreme highs, of happy endings in colorful movies.

But now, it is the love that grows deeper with time—the love that, also unconditionally, forgives, forgets, and strives to be better every day.

It is love that communicates, or tries to.

Even when talking about issues is hard, when there are tears, and harsh words passed; when there are misunderstandings, and stupidity. After four years with a partner, you can be sure to have plenty of that.

It’s Love that knows, through those trying days, that this kind of love is hard to come by, and even harder to keep alive. Love that you work at to preserve—because it’s worth it.

Boys at play
Boys at play

And then, there’s the kind of love as written in the Epistle of 1st Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient…love does not envy, it is not puffed up in pride, does not behave unseemly, it seeks not her own, it is not easily provoked. It thinks no evil.”

If that is a perfect kind of love, then my own is far from ideal. I am always easily provoked! I think of my own and myself all too often. And evil thoughts? Well, that’s just human!

But the verses go on:

Love rejoices in the truth. It bears all things. It believes all things. It hopes all things. Love never fails.”

Could I love this way? Believing all the possibilities? Hoping, always? Can I bear my burdens bravely, because Love gives me the strength?

Yes, I can.

I must.

8 mosI held my son a little bit longer that day, treasuring his thoughtful heart, knowing he would grow up way too fast, ask even tougher questions, and maybe, I would never, ever have all the answers.

But the thoughts he prompted had made me search my own soul, made me get back to what, in the end, really matters in life.

Made me know that, often you can’t define LOVE, or put a meaning on it, or make sense of it.

Indescribable, incredible love: sometimes you just know it’s there, and it’s perfect.

And even when it’s imperfect, if it’s real Love, it’s beautiful.

Now, go pursue, preserve, and fight for yours.

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What I Learned Living in Italy without Internet

lake como italy 1From May till September of this year, my small family lived on Lake Como in Northern Italy, where my husband worked at a water-sports center for the summer season.

The tiny apartment we were blessed to call home for those few months was charming in an old-fashioned way. It was a bright yellow centuries-old flat, on the corner of a narrow cobblestone street, so close to my neighbor’s window that not only could they see our underwear hanging out to dry; we could also hear their every whisper, laugh and (all too often) shouting marital disputes at 3am.

living in italy houseWe, like any normal people, wanted to buy a super-fast wifi connection for our temporary home. But in order to do that, we would have to sign a whole year’s lease. Knowing we weren’t going to stay in the country that long, we opted to not have it. (When we finally purchased a plug-in Internet device, it was so slow that it was worse than having none.)

This made for daily trips to the wifi-friendly Bar Pace café across the street, where we sipped creamy cappuccino, ate fresh, fluffy croissants, and checked our emails for half an hour.

Weekends on the lake got a little more active, with parachuters dropping down from the Alpine slopes, kitesurfers plowing through the rippled waters, sailboats in regattas, and dozens of sunbathers enjoying summer.

living in italy juneBut most of the time, life in Como was mostly uneventful; night-life was non-existent.

And after those slow-paced months, the realization hit me:

I didn’t miss not having Internet.

I didn’t miss not being “socially” connected.

I didn’t even miss texting!

I had a Twitter account, and a Facebook Page, and even a LinkedIn, yet never felt the urge to check my friends’ updates—never knew what was going on in half a thousand other people’s lives.

Here’s what I did do: life in italy beach

Ate chocolate gelato every day

Swam every day with my son

Read more books

Saw more sunsets

Did a lot of people-watching

Did a lot of listening

Went running every morning

Used my telephone only to book occasional dinners at restaurants, doctor appointments, and reach my husbandGera Lario painted by Nyx Martinez

Painted more 

Drank lots of prosecco and vino rosso with girlfriends, without distractions

Read more stories to my son

Fed swans and ducks every day

Watched Futurama episodes as a family on our laptop, every night

Learned a little Italian (“Bambini! Attentione! Macchina!”)

Got off my butt to exercise and lost 16 lbs

 

For those few months, I also did more dishes, laundry and house chores than I’ve ever done in my short history of being married and being a mom. It was exhausting, since I also spent every moment with my son. life in italy gravedonna

I spent every moment with my son.

And my husband, when he came home from work, did, too.

Today, I’m reminding myself of what life was like without an Internet connection there in Italy, because in a day or so, my world will change.

I’m buying a Smartphone.

Because of new changes, lifestyle moves, new work, travel and just plain Real Life, I’m getting back to being universally connected. I don’t want to be unrealistic about new business start-ups, career and family, and it’s essential that I strive for a balance (Main point: STRIVE.).

Yes, I’ll suddenly be ever-present in the online world, able to see all my updates and send out messages on the fly.

But I don’t ever want to forget the sweet life, the real Dolce Vita.

And that was, dear readers, being ever-present for my son, for my husband, and for myself—without distractions of modern living.

It was being able to hear myself think.

It was being able to hear both of my boys laugh, play, and even snore.

It was being able to silently pray, without static.

I’m making this note today so that maybe, even when Amazon delivers my brand new gadget, I can still find a balance-point–somewhere in-between real life, and the sweet life.

Maybe I can keep in mind what really matters.

life in italy lake comoIf you have helpful tips on parenting while still being realistic about other obligations, work, etc, I’d love to hear from you 🙂

Happiness and the Dalai Lama

Whenever I picture the Dalai Lama, I think of him smiling. Perhaps because, in most of his published photographs, he usually is.

His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, or the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, visited Milan last week (a two-hour drive from where we live), and was shown around the cathedral.

Having grown up in Buddhist Bangkok, I learned that their teachings focus on acceptance and tolerance, peace and the finding of contentment in one’s soul through a gentle way of life and a balanced mind.

But I would like to know what words were exchanged between the Catholic priests and the Dalai Lama, who learned more from who, where they found common ground in their religions or spiritual teachings. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a one-on-one conversation with the effortlessly-cheerful teacher?

On compassion in life, and our basic need to love and be loved, the Dalai Lama has this to say:

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. 

From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.

The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another.

No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people. It is foolish to dwell on external differences, because our basic natures are the same.

I believe that at every level of society – familial, tribal, national and international – the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities.”

(Excerpts from “Compassion and the Individual”, courtesy of www.dalailama.com)

Here is a picture of my son, happy with a new-found friend at the airport, sharing a listen on her Ipod. Kids always have a way of making us smile as they make new friends, maybe because they aren’t judgmental, and it’s this kind of childish happiness we could all use a little more of.

What Matters Most?

For a long time now, my husband and I have had to be apart, by choice of work stations. I hadn’t felt the need to change the situation. Content to know that our son was in school, I had a good job, the nanny was there to assist me, I had set up my own little life, and we were healthy.

The danger is not in being “okay”, or in having a secure and stable life. The danger happens when you stop fighting for what matters. I knew that to get back together with my husband, we would have to relocate, and I would have to give up a lot that I got used to. That part of me wanted to finally have a place “to settle”, after traveling so much already, all my life.

But the Universe finally threw a few big things my way that made the decision a lot easier.

Now that I am without a lot of the material things I held on to and valued, I can finally see what is important to me. It’s not the opinions of others, possessions, a nice house/apartment, a nice job or titles. I want the things that define me, and the treasures I value to be the kind that last, no matter where in the world we end up.

Family. Real relationships. Freedom, Love. Time. Health and happiness.

Sometimes, it’s only when we get to the place where everything is stripped away from us, that we can figure out in our hearts and our heads what we need to really be holding on to. There are times to let go, yes, but there are also times to fight for things that matter.

Fight to be close to the ones you love, if you value that.

Fight to teach your children independence, rather than dependence on people, and gadgets, places and things.

Fight to free yourself of selfish reasons—know that to get what you want, there’s a whole lot of giving involved.

Fight for freedom, if that is what you want.

This week, my family became a single unit again, together in one place. I have never felt happier, or more successful, than when I hold my boys close at night, knowing that it was worth giving up what I thought I wanted, for a life way better.

Listen to Your Heart

This picture I found in Vogue magazine reminds me that romance doesn’t only have to happen in the movies, or staged in photos by celebrities. My own love-story started exactly this way, when the handsome stranger showed up on a dirt-bike at my doorstep, daring me to hop on. I took a risk in saying, “Sure, I’ll ride out into the night with you.” (No, I did not look as glamorous as Jolie—my hair was matted with beach sand, clothes stale and stinky from a day of shooting…)

The night never ended—it began a new stage which took me out of my selfish single life, on the greatest journey ever.

But you know, when these things happen, you just got to take the risks, even if they seem crazy. Picture-perfect, to me, means full of imperfections–because risk-takers know the dangers, the pitfalls, and the heartaches. They are willing to throw everything to the wind, because something greater than a sense of security beckons.

Two years later, we got married. We are still taking risks, giving up things for a better life, where we have the freedom of living it on our own terms. It’s not been easy to join my life with his, when two roads meet and take another course. But this is a journey you just can’t plan. You follow your heart, and you find your adventure.

I’m so glad I said yes and hopped on that bike. Real-life Love is crazy and unpredictable, but always worth it.

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When was the last time you listened to your heart? Do you think it was the right decision? I’d love to hear your story!

Photo credit: Annie Leibovitz, Vogue Magazine

Lives Worth Living

About three years ago, a friend introduced me to a couple who ran their own business, and seemed perfect. They had been together for nearly 20 years, had two handsome teenage sons, and the beautiful wife was so eloquent in her speaking, that I remember admiring their family a lot, just by this one chance passing.

I recently learned the man had hung himself. Exactly why, I don’t know.

The shocking news made me realize that we come into contact with so many people every day, and never know their real stories, their turbulence or problems. When everything seems okay on the outside, when Twitter and Facebook updates seem like their world is perfect, who’s to say it really is?

Then again, who’s to judge? We can only accept each other as people, all passing through the same planet, living our journeys, and getting by one day at a time.  It made me think about the “friends” I do have listed, and what actual relationships are nurtured because of social networks.

Last week, I listened to two couchsurfers (whom I’ll call Will and Ray) talking about Facebook, and the conversation went like this:

Will: Everyone feels like you know everyone’s lives, based on the updates.

Roy: But it’s the start of your conversation with that person.

Will: But I would inquire as to how many of those interactions turn into real life friendships, or relationships. Because a lot of people are very curious about what you’re doing, but once they find out, you go your separate ways. So at the end of the day…

Roy: But we’re all so busy with our own lives…

Will: I think the biggest thing for me is Facebook makes it easy to be a lazy friend. For me, friendships are something that you work at, you need to make an effort to stay in people’s lives—if you want to—and FB makes it easy for people to feel like they are, but they’re not.

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I know that social networks can be a powerful tool, either way. I hope we can make it something that deepens our relationships and friendships, enabling us to reach out more, to live fuller lives, to enrich ourselves and those around us with good vibes, and positive feedback.

We may not have perfect lives, but we can have perfect peace, and create solid, real friendships that matter.

 

Why Do We Travel?

Lone Fisherman in Lago di Garda, 2009

Why do we travel?

To find ourselves

To lose ourselves

To find solace

Anonymity

To be inspired

To connect

To disconnect

To forget

To remember

To feel

To let go

We travel

Sometimes, just because

Flights are cheap

And we want to see the world

Taste the new

The unexplored

To see it in a new way

And write it down

To bring back stories

Or leave old ones there

To erase memories

Or create new ones

To seek out love

Or run from it

To walk away

To walk towards

To share

To learn

To open up the mind

Or shut it down

To document pictures

To reframe them

To be transported

To a foreign place

To get away

Or just come home.

P.S. Why do you travel? Post your reasons in the comment box below 🙂