My return to the United States after seven months in Italy was less of a culture shock and more of a culture “Hooray!” Being gone for so long had left me with an appreciation of small things I take for granted here—the bathrooms in stores, the lower prices of clothes, the regular-shaped folders, the shorter lectures, and the Thai restaurants.
Here, an entire life plays out within a few blocks. My uncle has spent his entire life in Rome. He stayed in his mother’s house until he got married and moved a ten-minute walk away. He raised his daughter, who then married and moved into an apartment across the street from her grandmother. He walks to his office every day and if he walks only fifteen minutes further, he can reach the Coliseum (although he’s only visited twice). His past, his livelihood, and his legacy all reside within a neighborhood in Rome.
A good reason for studying abroad is to begin to blur the lines of the world. Confines of countries and cultures are arbitrarily drawn and constantly changing. By exposing yourself to a new culture or country, while there can be grand differences in communication (languages or hand gestures or body language) and appearance and superstitions, many things stay the same.
Just as fireworks were lighting up the broad American skies, my nonna took her last few breaths. Her name was Angela Rosa, but she was a sunflower.
Sunflower translates as Girasole in Italian, which literally means “to turn to the sun.” That is how I remember her—always turning to the sun, to the small pieces of joy among a thousand pains. She had lost her husband, lost a son; she had survived fascism and cancer. In the very end, she was in pain, her body a cage in which all she could do was remember and think and write, thus leaving hundreds of poems and memories behind. Her 90-year-old brother, her priest, her badante and friend, and we her family: We were her sun.