Years ago I experienced divorce first-hand and it was awful. Emotionally crippling and physically debilitating, I found myself believing that the pain would simply eat me alive as I became a shell of who I used to be. I desperately wanted my “original” self back – to replace my newfound despair with my youthful sense of passion – to recapture my enthusiasm for life. So when I saw the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun,” I found myself living vicariously through Frances, the movie’s protagonist. The plot is simple:
Girl is gifted writer. Girl meets boy. Girl marries boy. Boy, narcissist, cheats on girl. Boy takes everything and moves girlfriend into girl’s home. Girl, depressed, flees to Tuscany to find herself and, instead, finds adorable villa in need of a makeover. Girl buys villa. Girl experiences life changing transformation and love as she makes over villa – with magical Italian landscapes as a backdrop.
My God, how I envied her. You see, I’d already been to Italy and had a vivid dream of moving there. I imagined packing up everything and buying a one way ticket right away. Just imagine having a chance to reinvent your life in a country that inspires wonder and speaks to your soul – a place that values the senses, culture, family and a pace that honors really living. Italy is a passionate, beautiful place that represents wisdom along with innocence, a place that rebuilds and renews, but always values its rich past and community. It feels like home. Add to that how wonderful it would be to leave everything behind and begin again, fresh and far away from the people who have hurt you. It’s a built-in do-over. Who wouldn’t want that?
Years later, though, I saw a huge hole in the movie’s plot because, really, when you think about it, it just doesn’t apply to most real-life divorce scenarios I’ve encountered. And I, unfortunately, know of all too many. Those plots go a bit more like this:
Girl meets boy. Girl marries boy. Girl gives up career for marriage. Girl has children. Boy damages marriage and devastates girl. Girl files for divorce. Boy gets angry. Girl loses everything. Girl pursues work and/or education to better her situation, but faces complications of being unemployed for years. Girl maintains stable home for children. Girl incurs debt. Girl dreams of fleeing to Tuscany. Girl, instead, makes a pot of Ronzoni spaghetti with canned sauce and opens a bottle of Sangiovese after working all day and taking the kids to their extra-curricular activities.
As much as we’d love to imagine the possibility of escaping to a foreign shore when tragedy strikes, the truth is most of us have work to do right where we are before that could ever be a possibility. There are children to guide toward adulthood, a career to establish, a battle between our pain and will as we reshape our lives. There is a beauty to that battle and bravery. Hopefully, we’ll come out on the other side better, stronger, and more self-aware than when we started. Our children learn the value of a mother’s identity as a person. They see how hard work can overcome adversity and that dreams are worth pursuing. They experience their mothers’ dedication and unyielding love.
Do I wish that I could pick up and move to Italy tomorrow? Absolutely. I crave the simpler lifestyle, the slower pace and the connection to culture, community and a passionate life that can only be found in that magical place. And someday I hope that my dream will become a reality. Until then, I will dream of the church bells that echo off of the canals in Venice each morning. I will remember the people I met in Rome who all spoke of how family is “the most important thing.” I will remember the foods in Tuscany that were created with love and patience, with ingredients taken right from the earth. I will recall nature’s new growth through the cracks of majestic ruins thousands of years old, and the way Italians equate that with the cycle of life. I will long for the way everyone there wants to hug and feed you, or to share a glass of wine and conversation as the sun sets and the community gathers in the local piazza. These dreams and memories motivate and inspire me. They make me remember that a world is waiting for me, hopefully to welcome me home one day. Until then I will work and rebuild, making the most of the gifts I have right here. The moral of the story? When life hands you lemons, make limoncello.
* Side note: While I have personally encountered many stories of divorce in which single mothers face the above mentioned issues I, in no way, mean to imply that all divorced mothers fit the above description. Sadly, though, too many do. Additionally, men are also often the victims of unfair treatment during a divorce. In either of these cases, reinvention and recovery are long and challenging processes and the individuals involved need and deserve support.