“Happiness is not getting what you want, it is wanting what you get.” – Neale Donald Walsch.
I grew up on the outskirts of Detroit’s west side, just one mile north of Eminem’s now famous 8 Mile Road. Our neighborhood streets weren’t exactly tree-lined, nor were there pools in every yard. Instead, it was abandoned lawns, cracked and crumbled driveways and homes in desperate need of fresh paint.
Tom’s Party Shop was just down our road. It was a place where neighborhood kids went with their pockets flush with coins to buy handfuls of candies or frozen treats. If you were an under-aged teen with a little extra cash, you had no problem getting your share of Marlboros. Tom’s was the meet-up point for our neighborhood “gang.” After meeting, we scattered throughout the neighborhood. Days were spent riding bikes, running through sprinklers and hiking the woods. We climbed trees, ate Popsicles and sometimes smoked those shared Marlboros. We had everything we needed. There was nothing lacking in our world. We were simply flowing with a curiosity borne of our childhood innocence. A feeling so intense, that we explored our world with creative imagination and complete openness.
My neighborhood became a summer reprieve. It was my own little and first established community that provided a sense of normalcy and belonging.
It allowed an escape from my father’s heavy hand and my mother’s borderless despair. The only time my mother broke free from the gnawing anxiety and depression that chewed perforations in her soul was when her family flew the three of us to Sicily for summer visits.
If the neighborhood was my reprieve, then Sicily was my sanctuary.
It was a place of refuge. The air alone felt like a warm blanket of comfort. With every visit, I stepped off the plane and took in a deep breath of the sweet Mediterranean air. It was like drinking an elixir that instantly filled my body with life. Trips to this magical land transformed me. This sacred ground touched a part of me that went unaffected back in Detroit. It was an unexplainable sense of complete and utter ease.
Walking through the markets my heart would tumble with an unexplainable love as I watched an old-Italian guy with a round belly selling fish while singing “Volare.” Laundry hung from every window and dangled across streets, kids in their flip-flops and swimsuits ran through the streets as they screamed to friends up on the rooftops. The sounds of Vespa motors, beeping car horns, and street vendors shouting melded together to create the unforgettable background buzz of our little, Sicilian beach town. In front of almost every household entrance would be seated at least one crooked, gray-haired woman watching it all unfold – a reality show right before her eyes. With every visit, all remained the same.
My family’s country villa was located only a mile from town, but was completely removed from the excitement of the village streets. The tiny house sat amidst acres of fruit trees and abundantly growing vegetables. The land was covered with a colorful array of the earth’s glorious offerings. The colors of flowers, bright red tomatoes, sun kissed lemons, pale green pears, round pink peaches, purple eggplants, green zucchini and peas dotted the property. Abundance so plentiful, that we happily shared our wealth with the countless people who walked through our open door.
We lived our summer days under the glow of the Sicilian sun, starting each day with a swim in the Mediterranean Sea, in warm water so clear you could see the groups of tiny fish swim away from your approach.
The beach was set against a backdrop of rocky, mountain cliffs descending precipitously into the sea with mysterious caves and caverns that kept you wondering what lived inside. I always admired the scene in absolute disbelief. Nature had an impeccableway of putting together such vibrant colors in the most perfect conditions.
After leaving the beach, we made our way to the baker for daily bread and cheese, while spending the rest of the day playing in the breeze of the country air. Eating was always an event in itself. Each meal was carefully planned and created with an intense amount of zest and passion. Passionately is how the Italians live while at the same time, appreciating the simplicity of life.
My Italian family made up for the lack of love back home. A stream of attention and affection were constants from all of our family and friends, but it was my grandfather who held my heart. He was my idol. I followed him everywhere like a lost puppy. I felt most secure and safe when I was around him and whenever he noticed me nearby, he would stop watering the eggplants or mixing the pasta, to give me a little extra attention. And with a wink, I knew I was his favorite.
I used to wonder why life in Sicily was just so much better than my life anywhere else. I thought it was the place itself. Maybe it really was magic. That’s what my grandpa would say. He convinced me that our little town in Sicily’s coastal cove was the best place on earth. Now, looking back, I realize that it has nothing to do with its geographical location, and everything to do with the way I lived there. I was fastened safely to love, and was living each moment – in that moment – never thinking about where I’d be next, or where I was before. Why would I? Everything right in front of me was perfect.
Why dare spend a second removed from it? Summer days in my neighborhood back home gave me glimpses of that reality, but it was quickly stripped from me when I walked through my front door. In Sicily, I lived in tranquility, peace and joy practically all the time – and this is how life is supposed to be lived.
Life is meant to be happy.
News Flash, Dad: humans are not made to suffer.
Just watch a child play blissfully in the street. It’s evidence of how life is designed to be lived. Playfully loving each moment without the preoccupation of anything other than the present. We are love, peace and joy. These aren’t emotions. They are aspects that define our being. There is nothing more we need. We already have everything. But our mind often makes too much noise for us to notice.
In Sicily, my mind was quiet long enough for me to feel that union. That was what I had confused as magic, but maybe that’s what magic really is. My presence with every moment and my firm connection with myself, as One, drew me closer to my truth. This truth connected me to that pureness and joy.
Sometimes we confuse joy with pleasure. Pleasure is always derived from something outside of ourselves. It can be here today and gone tomorrow, and that thing that we oftentimes call “love” may be pleasurable today, but it might cause tremendous pain tomorrow.
Joy, on the other hand, arises from within. It is what we experience in those short-lived moments of complete and utter peace: the birth of a child, the stillness in nature, watching the sunset. However, because our thoughts are quick to interrupt these moments, we’re only able to appreciate glimpses of our truth. If only we can be there longer than we’re not. Living that which we are – joy, love and peace. That is what some people call, “Enlightenment.”