mambo italiano

I find myself looking down probably 75 percent of the time.

My eyeballs are a magnet for gravel-laden loose change, and I could likely list every imperfection on the tops of my shoes because I’ve had plenty of time for memorization.


Being a ground gazer is a habit I’m desperately trying to break.

Meanwhile, European architecture humbly demands appreciation.

Every column, every buttress, every Baroque adornment quietly whispers to its audience, asking for just a moment, a glance, a jaw fallen in awe. And we curious humans give in without anticipating that one look easily leads to a gawk and a collection of lengthy minutes of staring.

Until recently, it hadn’t occurred to me just quite how many  photos of ceilings I had on my memory card: the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Cathedral, Palazzo Reale, the Pantheon.

And to think I would have missed it all if I kept looking at my shoes, admiring my Birkenstock tan.

Wow wouldja look at that: on more than one rare occasion I found myself looking upward.

I think this experience is a metaphor for my life at large: I need to look up more—to a creative God, to inspiring people, to the humbling vastness of this planet. In turn, I would imagine this would reduce my looking down on myself— my inabilities, my recurring mistakes, my deepest insecurities.

In a glass-half-full analogy, I imagine we’re all constantly looking up from the base, and that alone might explain why we as humans often feel so low.

. . .

I say with the utmost humility I can muster that my family has some incredible people to admire—to look up to, if you will.

My 83-year-old grandfather immigrated to the United States when he was just 15, taking a 12-day boat ride across the Atlantic to reach Ellis Island. The feeling of how that act of courage altered not only his life but the lives for generations to come is inconceivable.

I’ve lived my whole life normalizing my European heritage, which entails being called “bella” (translated: “beautiful” in Italian) more often than my God-given name, family dinners around homemade gnocchi and spending an obscene amount of money on imported cheese.

It took me years to appreciate how very special family history is, but spending five days in Pescocostanzo—a quaint town nestled in the mountains of Italy’s Abruzzi region—solidified my appreciation, my gratitude, my pride. 

I finally experienced the beautiful heritage that runs in my veins; I felt like I was finally painted in to all the tattered Kodak photos I’d seen for 21 years. 

I tasted the crisp air from the mountains, walked along the same cobblestone roads my grandfather trekked across when he was young, heard the ancient church bells chime at the early hours of the morning.

Here is where I felt closest to the very-best-version-of-myself, a repeated phrase in the book I brought along on the journey. Here is where I felt at home—and for good reason, given the context.

. . .

I think everyone needs a humble reminder every now and then of where our story, our very existence, first began—before we were even a thought.

We forget that no matter how far along we are in life, no matter how well or unwell we’ve drawn our path, we can’t erase the lines that came before us—and we shouldn’t want to. 

It is because of these lines that we have been led to where and who we are.

Now, I yearn to retrieve Europe’s slower pace. I miss sharing laughter and coffee in good company. I really crave gelato.

I miss Italy. I think about it—and my family whom I love so much—every day, many times. 

From this point onward, I think I’ll find myself looking up more often, more confidently and more joyfully to the God who creates humans so intricately, to the universe that weaves us into our pasts and entrusts us with creating our futures.

Because the pastel sky we see everyday is the most beautiful ceiling there ever could be.

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