When I dropped off Amedeo at his first day of elementary school I wasn’t expecting such a beautiful gift. I was focused on my little boy growing up, the milestone, his anxious questions and tears, the “male di pancia” as we got closer to the school. I hugged him tight hoping to sooth his aching stomach, trying to comfort him with the names of a few kids I thought might be in his class.  “You are not going to be alone” I console him. But he is not listening to a word I say.

I get it.

Loneliness is scary. It scares me every day. It eats me up at times . At night my head races. How is my family back in the States? How is my my mom’s health? My dad, is he happy? Working in the garden perhaps? My sister? It has been a year since I heard her crazy cackle. Why have we not spoken? My brother, his wife and those sweet girls? Why am not there? Why are we not sharing a picnic together this weekend? Why am I here? And finally…

Why am I alone?

It usually gets out of control from there with images of my unkempt grave stone in some hidden Florentine cemetery. A custodian passes by and brushes off a few dry leaves…

When we arrive at the door of the elementary school  it is Italian chaos and drama, but it is much more than that. For years I have walked the same street and annoyingly passed the mob of parents that stood at that entrance in those early hours. They fill the street like a summer rock festival. Today it is my turn. I enter the crowd tightly holding Amedeo’s hand. Somebody taps my shoulder. “Are you Simone’s wife?” she asks. Her daughter will be in Amedeo’s class too. She smiles shyly at Amedeo. Across the wave of parents a woman is waving to me. I remember her from my first birthing class. I have not seen her in years. Her kind face makes me smile too. Upstairs in his class room Amedeo sits down in a group of small desks that faces an open window with a view of trees and the church of Santa Croce. Galileo is buried inside with planets and stars and alignments and all those telescopes searching far away for answers, for connections.  His pensive bearded expression races through my mind.

More familiar faces start to fill the classroom. The shop keeper from across the street and his son. Parents and kids from the neighborhood park. Faces I have seen in pediatrician waiting rooms and supermarkets and passed in little cobbled alleyways for years now. And that is when the room starts to shift and I see something clearly for the first time. Something that was there all along, but I couldn’t perceive until that moment. All those simple ciaos and buongiornos  and smiles  and brief encounters I   exchanged over the years were slowly building something , little by little, piece by piece a foundation.  In the room I could see its comforting walls starting to take shape. A community, and my family and I were a part of it. It felt safe. It felt good. I know Amedeo felt it too. He managed to get a smile out as I wave goodbye from the classroom door.

In the hall I peak into other classrooms as I make my way out of the building. And I am astonished at how many faces, young and old I recognize, how many kids I have seen take their first steps or ride their first bikes in that old dusty dirty park around the corner from the school. I feel hope and allow it to swell. Why not, why not?

Later that night I go to bed a little easier, fewer questions race through my head. I soften the voice of anxious wondering, and count my lucky stars.