An Ode To Park Benches And Passion

“The Greeks didn’t write obituaries. When a man died, they asked only one question: did he have passion?”

I help take care of this elderly man named Allen. He can’t remember what happened five minutes ago, but he can give you a play by play of everything that happened during his time in WWII. Sadly, he is aware of his condition and why he’s in a nursing home. Every morning he still goes outside at 7am and salutes the flag. I work with another lady, Elene, who always walks around holding a picture of one of the Saints. She passed away yesterday, and I had to go into her room. I glanced at her wedding picture, next to her bed. It was from 1935. There were pictures of her grandkids, trips to Paris, and family Christmases. I noticed her stack of journals, chronicling her 90-some years on this earth. Next to them was a box that contained tattered love letters from her husband, who had died several years prior. He wrote her a note everyday telling her how much he loved her.

Then there are the others. The ones whose rooms are empty.

I’ve been taking my ipod on alot of daytrips to the park lately. Parks are bittersweet to me, as are daytrips. At any rate, they are good places for reflecting. If we ever met, you would probably instantly recognize two things: I play with my hair alot, I’m sarcastic, and I’m passionate. Okay, three. I’m also Italian, which makes the problem of passion significantly worse. But is it really a problem? Interesting you should ask. I hadn’t thought about it much until recently.

It’s a tricky dichotomy, Passion. I’ve always gravitated toward passionate people. People who aren’t alarmed by my enthusiasm for composition notebooks and travel size products, but rather, appreciate it. They take notice of little things that may appear insignificant, however, they are anything but. Passion can also be easily misunderstood.

Someone once told me that passionate people are amazing lovers, and even better fighters. When we’re in, we’re in. And when we care greatly, we hurt greatly. I share this with you because I like to keep it real. I’m not about pretending to be something I’m not. There is no greater disservice to the world, and to yourself. I’ve done some horrible things, which illustrate all too well, that there is a bad side of passion.

young-victoriaWhen I went to college in London, I learned a lot about Queen Victoria. I took a trip to her castle. I was excited when the movie Young Victoria came out, as she had such an incredible story that many haven’t heard. After living in near isolation and becoming Queen of the British Empire at only 18 years old, Victoria eventually married her best friend, Prince Albert, against all odds. He died of typhoid fever when he was only 42. In honor of him, she had his clothes laid out every day until her death, at age 82. Their story was one of passion.

Despite the bad side, I can’t see living any other way. Don’t be scared of what will happen if you jump all in. Life is just, life. It’s messy and horrible and wonderful. In the end, you’ll lose your hair, your health, and your good looks. Don’t end up with an empty room.

Or Is She A Light Sleeper Too?

When I was young, I would lay barefoot in my dad’s old canoe, with my friend Christian, and daydream. I dreamt of snow days, tree forts, and perhaps a car to wander down my lonely dead end street so I could sell them cranberry juice or a stolen pumpkin from the neighbor’s garden. My mom always said lemonade was nothing but sugar and wasn’t good for my bladder like cranberry juice. My response was that I was just trying to make a buck (literally) and no one had ever heard of a cranberry juice stand.

A few years later, I got blonde highlights, a training bra, and started dreaming of my first kiss or how great it would feel to be able to drive myself to the mall. And snow days. During my early college years, I dreamt of moving to the city, sipping martinis in cute cocktail dresses, meeting an affluent man who wore skinny ties, and becoming a writer for some sort of BS magazine, like say, Cosmo or Allure. That was just a phase, thank God. At that point in my life, friends were ever-changing, as were boyfriends and the color of my bridesmaid dresses, yet I still had no dreams of my own white wedding.

By the grace of God, I turned down a proposal that would have surely ended in a nasty divorce, a black eye, and several restraining orders. Toward the end of college, while filling lumber orders at Home Depot, I would stare at my Italy calendar and dream of exploring this beautiful world of ours. So I did. The trip came with an added bonus: a charming, British boy who moved to my crappy town and bought me a house on a street lined with maple trees. I loved him incredibly.

sad-faceAt this point, I had experienced enough of life not to get my hopes up. However, one sunny fall day as I was driving through the neighborhood, I saw a father helping his son learn how to ride a bike. I remember watching them and thinking that for the first time in my life, I am not scared. I felt happy. I felt relieved that maybe I was finally ready for my “real life” to begin. When I opened the front door, I found my boyfriend unconscious from a heroin overdose. For the following three years, the only dream that existed in me was that I would awake to find him, still breathing.

In my mid-twenties, I assembled the disjointed pieces of myself and started figuring out who I was. Tried many things, failed. I discovered new passions, such as photography. I developed old passions, such as writing. I dreamt of independence. I dreamt of making my living as a writer. I dreamt of finding a man who truly got me, if he even existed. Someone I could laugh with. I didn’t care about his wealth, or status, or how well he could coordinate his own outfits.

As I am now dangerously approaching a middle-age milestone, I look back and realize my dreams have always been rather simple. Many people dream of curing cancer, being famously known, or owning a penthouse suite in Times Square. The dream of a fairy tale wedding never even existed for me, and the dream of watching my son learn how to ride his bike on the sidewalk has long since been shelved to collect dust, along with several others.

I haven’t expected much out of life, or the people I encounter in it – just common decency. I’ve made terrible mistakes, but I’ve learned. I’ve learned how to distinguish friends that actually give a damn; you really are the company you keep. I’ve learned that you might fall for someone’s personality, but unfortunately, must live with their character. I’ve learned that there is no better feeling than a clear conscience; nothing worse than a guilty one. I’ve learned that in every situation, you have a choice. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay, even necessary, to be alone. I’ve learned that I’d still rather be hurt, than hurt someone else. I’ve learned that coping mechanisms are cowardice; and only for those not willing to surrender to the pain, which ultimately enables you to better yourself. I’ve learned that grace and dignity during difficult situations are the difference between a girl and a woman, a boy and a man. I’ve learned the high road, although much less traveled, takes you much farther. I’ve learned that you should always call someone’s bluff. I’ve learned that words, although the source of my survival, are also the bane of my existence, because they mean nothing.

feet-in-grass2Yesterday, it was sunset. As I was driving through a tree-lined neighborhood, I looked at all the families. I gawked at the couples, with their hands in each other’s back pockets. Perhaps they were truly happy; perhaps they lived in Ignorant Blisswhere I have been until recently.

And it seemed, in that moment, everything had come full circle. The only thing I really wanted to do was lay barefoot in the grass, rest my puffy eyes, and daydream with someone. Someone I could laugh with. Someone who truly got me.

“Our happiness, such as in its degree it has been, lives in memory. We have not the voice itself; we have only its echo. We are never happy; we can only remember that we were so once. After all, a man’s real possession is his memory. In nothing else he is rich, in nothing else he is poor.” -Alexander Smith