April 14, 2017

WHITE KNUCKLES | Spaces of Gratitude

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As you might’ve figured out, my blogging technique is pretty straightforward: something happens to me – something simple, everyday, insignificant to history or to my neighbors but exceptional to me, less meaningful that I build it up to be – and I write about it. And since I went to Los Angeles for spring break last week, that is what I am writing about today. But you might also have figured out that I am not into linear narrative, chronological memoirs, climaxes of events – the most interesting doors are open behind small details: in the spaces between clubs in Hollywood and a road trip to Palm Springs, in the dusty backroads away from the beach, close enough for sand to get on them but far enough that they don’t smell like sea salt. In this case, I found a door in a vegan bowl of kale, spinach, beets, quinoa and tahini.

The restaurant is near Venice Beach, and populated by people wearing athletic gear and impeccable hair. It is called Café Gratitude – I think it made an impression on me because lately I’ve been feeling very grateful. Realizing one’s luck and blessings and feeling the exhilaration of utter gratitude and happiness feel very different; it is wrong on my part, to not always feel filled gratitude. There are psychological theories that state that the “lesser evil” does not exist: in other words, if you live an easy and comfortable life, the small inconveniences and hardship you experience will in no way be lessened or alleviated by the awareness that the vast majority of the world’s population has much bigger, much more terrible problems. I used to buy into this. The most important people in my life, however, are fierce opponents of this theory: they are right. And I found that one of the most effective ways not to fall in the trap of the lesser evil is to practice gratitude.

In the midst of all the fortunes I’ve received, one of the greatest ones was that of seeing a world much bigger than the one I was born in: that of feeling at home elsewhere, of loving people I’ve known for a few years with the love of lifelong friendship, of finding those long-running relationships on my side of the ocean and looking back on the way we’ve come since we were in middle school. Creating a bigger world for oneself is the biggest bliss anyone can enjoy — that, and being thankful for it.

I’ve stumbled upon many articles, posted in online Italian newspapers, written by young people who have to move abroad to find a job, to be taken seriously, to complete a doctoral degree without having to make copies for an influent professor first. The job market in Italy is less than ideal, especially for young graduates; many of them go to England, some cross the Ocean; in general, they find that in the new country they are valued. However, I was struck by the tone they all used in their letters: it was that of anger and desperation. And while I understand being angry at the stagnant situation in our home country, and while I understand the homesickness and saying goodbye and losing loved ones and the resentment and the guilt and the fear of not being enough and making themselves a fool with a thick accent and poor grammar – while I understand and remember all of this, I don’t get the desperation. I realize that my experience abroad is exceptional, both for the institution where I ended up and especially for the people I’ve met along the way; however, how can your world getting bigger and more adventurous and more diverse culminate in desperation? Even with the longer winter and without the food – the radius starting from your feet gets longer until you lose sight of the end of it, until the sphere around your head bursts open and blue. It is a wonderful thing, to be able to discover that your world is incommensurably big, to look back on last year’s plans and find them too modest, to stop looking at the gaps between places as empty, to fill them with all ourselves and stretch over as much ground as we can. It is something to be very grateful for.