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Gioie della Tavola

Tuscany

For Italians…the dinner table always serves as reminder that we’re connected to each other and to life itself.

Evoking feelings of nostalgia isn’t a hard task. One scent, one picture…or even one smile can drift you back to that sentimental place or time in the past. After a recent conversation with my Mom, I took a little nostalgic journey back in time, back to a period in my childhood where the “Council” existed. The Council, as it was known, was a regular gathering at my Great Aunt Rita’s house—made up of mostly Italian women—who would congregate around a large dining room table and talk and talk…and talk (usually in debate-style) about life, love, family, politics, memories—all while naturally being encouraged to mangia, mangia over the Italian yummies laid out before them (and yes…I can recall the redolence of anisette in the air from those fresh Italian cookies).

When it comes to Italians or Italy, let’s face it, the first thing people usually think of is the warmth, joy and utter magic created around the dinner table. It’s well known that Italians are accomplished in the gioie della tavola, or “the joys of the table.” In fact, the dinner table is one of the most steadfast images and emblems in Italian art—celebrated in our paintings and films, from the Renaissance to present day.

If you were an outsider looking in on those gatherings of the council, you’d likely be dizzy with confusion—because just like many large Italian families, all gathered around that table would not only talk at higher than normal decibels, but also all at the same time…and don’t forget the hands, which also spoke volumes. But it was there at the table, where hearts would open, and life’s greatest celebrations and sometimes even dramatic battles would unfold.

We all seem to crave time that will create nostalgic memories, like our winter bones crave the warmth of summer. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to reconnect to oneself. Just. More. Time. Yet the irony comes during the week when all we wish to do is speed that time up…a magical fast forward to Friday, where the challenges of the week can be left behind.

For me, with work and school dominating our days, and homework, sports and activities dominating our evenings, there often seems to be little room for creating memories as a family around our dining room table—but they’re a necessity. My boys crave “family nights” in the dining room during the week and they always become the high point of any day. There we connect. We laugh. We pray. We share our struggles and joys…and ultimately we strengthen the bonds of love and friendship.

There aren’t many members of that beautiful Council left on this side of Heaven, and though the table is still there in my Aunt Rita’s house, all you can really see is what is not there anymore. I guess a table is not simply an object in a room, it’s the people gathered around it that bring it to life.

Time is short and precious. Embrace more moments in gioie della tavola…appreciating the magical synergy that is created when the joys of conversation and intimacy commingle with the pleasures of amazing food and drink.

“What must be broken apart in order to bring a family close together? Bread, of course.”

The Doors In Between

Door to Nowhere

There are things known and things unknown and in between are the doors.

Jim Morrison

After visiting the Greek islands, not only did I walk away with a deeper appreciation for the architecture—amazingly beautiful structures that all spoke of bygone eras—but somewhere among the thousands of incredible little cobblestone alleyways and whitewashed streets, I got caught up obsessing over the doors.  The mystery and allure of the rustic and charmingly seductive doors in Santorini are in many ways akin to passageways within our own lives—some invitations to great, even sheltered opportunity, while others yet signifying isolated imprisonment, an escape, or even bitter closure. To me all doors seem to speak of the powerful knowns and unknowns encountered in life—perhaps the very reason why I’m so intrigued by them.

Recently, when asked why I haven’t written a post in some time, I realized I couldn’t really blame my hiatus on a lack of inspiration.  After all, I earnestly recognize the daily miracles all around me, including the abundant joy that my three amazing boys deliver—all opportunities to ignite a spark of inspiration to flow on paper.  Instead, I think the heaviness on my heart these last months has been the source of the ink drying in my pen.  As many of you within the breast cancer social media community know, we’ve recently seen several women reach new passageways in the realm of cancer.  While some have opened doors to the unknown dreaded territory of metastatic disease (stage IV), others in the community are at the end of treatment options and have entered the doors of hospice care in preparation.  Saddest still, are the beautiful young women who recently closed their final doors on cancer and are now journeying beyond this world, leaving loved ones gripped with grief behind.  As Jada so beautifully wrote one day before her untimely death at age 36:  “Y se me va la vida….and my life goes away….”

Every three seconds in the US, someone is diagnosed with breast cancer.  All of these people share at least one common thread that ties them together—they are a statistic.  Regardless of stage at diagnosis, we all walk through the unknown door of breast cancer with a 30% chance of going on to develop incurable metastatic disease.  Now I know statistics may seem mundane, but when you’ve been touched by cancer, those numbers are painfully real.  As a “statistic,” I have a vested interest in educating myself and others about this terminal disease and urging people to support research that helps those with advanced breast cancer live longer.  So though the town may be painted pink every October and beyond, and while some in the world perceive breast cancer to be the “good” one, the richly funded one, or even the easy one—the somber reality is that in the US alone this year, we will see an estimated 40,000 deaths from breast cancer.  Yes, that’s one woman every 13 seconds—gone.  So it’s safe to say that though I’m grateful for heightened breast cancer awareness that has come from pink campaigning, this disease is not good—in fact, just like every cancer, it sucks.  As the second leading cause of cancer death in women behind lung cancer, breast cancer is a fierce adversary on the cancer brigade.

Going through photos of my visit to the pearl of the Mediterranean—as Santorini is so deservedly known—awakened that odyssey of cherished memories that live in my heart … memories all scattered in between the doors-galore.  Everywhere stood phenomenal, colorful doors:  doors within doors, doors with seemingly no purpose at all, and my favorite by far, those charming and dreamy “doors to nowhere.”  I get goosebumps thinking about them.  My obsession with these doors was in large part because they were like an unlimited gateway into my imagination, allowing me to see what my mind’s eye envisioned to be on the other side.

My prayer is to find my door to nowhere on this walk, one where my eyes will be fixed on the Lord and my trust in His plan and purpose for my life regardless of what lies before me.  On December 26, 2012, I was evicted from life as I knew it and had to close the door to my pre-cancer existence.  You realize fairly quickly entering this brave new world that you’re forever changed, always wondering where this narrow passageway will lead, one where you feel like one inch in any direction—the walls on either side will come crashing down around you.   In fact, it’s often hard to talk about those feelings, because it’s easy to feel guilty while there are countless other women who have current goals—like seeing their children graduate from High School or even Kindergarten. These women with incurable metastatic disease are part of the 30% to enter Stage IV or advanced breast cancer, and though some will live in treatment for some time, the reality is when you are stage IV, you will die from or with breast cancer.

Occasionally in my circle of close friends and family, I’ll get the question:  “Why you, Nicole?”  Without thought, my answer has always been “Why not me?”  I am no different than the other 10 million cancer “survivors” in this country all going about our lives with a slight pause in our walks, wondering if the cancer is only hiding behind the next door.   As a woman of Faith, however I try—instead of pausing to stop and thank God for being there, for holding my hand on the journey and seeing me through every step of the way.  It’s easier to rest in hope under the umbrella of prayer and thankfulness.  As I once read:  “Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayer and worn with thanks.”

In love … and hope …

Nicole

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.

John 10:9

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